If England believe their first three tour games were an unkind reflection of their worth, no one else will any longer believe it if they come to grief at Ellis Park as well as elsewhere. Wednesday's close call in Western Transvaal was a small, small mercy after the defeats against Free State and Natal.
England are in distress, but their coach, Dick Best, contends it could be worse and that he personally has known much worse. 'When you captain a club like Harlequins and you lose the first 14 games and no one wants you as captain anyway, that's pressure,' he said.
For now, but not for much longer, the happier memories of last season sustain them and even Francois Pienaar, captain of Transvaal and South Africa, remains seduced. 'No team that has beaten New Zealand, France and Wales is as bad as it has sometimes looked on this tour,' he said.
Pienaar therefore expects this purported English quality finally to reveal itself today. 'There is absolutely no doubt they will play far better against Transvaal than they have so far, and there is no doubt they will play even better in the Test matches,' he said. 'It was much easier for Natal than it will be for us.'
There is absolutely no doubt, either, that Pienaar should not be playing. But such is the pressure on him with the first Test following next Saturday that he will carry his ankle injury into today's match.
'Ideally I would have loved another week,' he said ruefully. 'But it was my decision completely and I needed to play to be picked for the Test.'
There is a resemblance between the case of Pienaar, Transvaal's open-side flanker, and that of the England captain, Will Carling, who will regret his decision to play if he takes a knock on his recently dislocated thumb.
'I wanted to play; I've got to play,' he said yesterday - remarks which suggest credibility is at stake.
Carling's incomprehension at the way England's matches have been handled will make it a mercy if today's aftermath does not produce the referee-related recriminations which have soured the tour almost as much as Stuart Barnes's views on the good volk of Bloemfontein.
The England management may be heartily sick of local referees but the locals are equally sick.
Yesterday Piet Robbertse, chairman of the South African referees, urged the tourists to unwonted silence on the subject.
'If they start doing some homework and adapt to local interpretations, as every touring team is forced to do, their own performances will improve. They are continually jumping across the line and closing the gap before the ball is thrown in.' The Robbertse fallacy is the implication that the saintly South Africans do neither.
The management, meanwhile, feel they have already done their homework precisely as Robbertse suggests, only to be let down by each new referee conducting the game diametrically differently from his predecessor.
Will you take the issue to a higher authority? Jack Rowell, the manager, was asked. 'If you mean praying,' he replied, 'I've certainly been doing that.'
Transvaal: T van Rensburg; J Louw, C Scholtz, J Mulder, P Hendriks; H le Roux, J Roux; B Swart, J Dalton, J le Roux, K Wiese, H Strydom, I Macdonald, R Straeuli, F Pienaar (capt).
ENGLAND: P Hull (Bristol); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath).
Referee: I Rogers (Durban).Reuse content