England. . . . . 16
STRANGE to relate, but it was a restorative performance by England's unregarded midweek side at Hoffe Park yesterday. They may have lost yet another match in South Africa, their fourth in five here, but there was solace of a sort in boxing a draw.
Before those of a gentle disposition throw up their hands in horror, it should be explained in mitigation that in the wake of defeat by Transvaal, England have been branded softies, most particularly by Balie Swart, the Springbok prop best known for having been suspended for drug-taking.
So he hardly has moral authority, but in any event he was wrong. Dean Ryan's pack, not least Ryan himself, stood up for themselves, not only by engaging in the all-in brawl that disfigured the end of the game but also playing enough decent rugby to have won it.
'I've always said that when we win two balls in a row it will be a different game,' Jack Rowell, the England manager, said. Damian Hopley's try, a tap-penalty move that flowed to him through Bates, Ryan, Rowntree, Barnes, Callard, Catt and Potter, was far less than England deserved, but at least their manhood was vindicated.
'In a very tense game with a very close finish there are going to be aspects that are going to be very physical,' Ryan said. 'It would be very difficult to control that sort of incident, with a large number of players involved.' No way were these the lambs to the slaughter which one South African paper had predicted.
Even so, it was another mark in the tour's lengthening deficit column. England's frustration was sighted early on by Ryan's unwillingness to let any refereeing decision pass without query. When this became haranguing, Stef Neethling duly warned him to stay quiet and much later the referee returned to Ryan in company with his opposite number, Adriaan Richter.
This warning came after a vicious little flare-up during which Steve Ojomoh, pinned on the ground, was flagrantly rained with blows by Kobus Wiese. Then came the outbreak at the next line-out, Wiese throwing the first punch, and Neethling took the easy option by lecturing the captains again.
Meanwhile Wiese, who had seemed in imminent danger of dismissal, took no further part as he immediately went off - with what else but an injured hand. 'I didn't consider sending anyone off,' Neethling said. 'How do you send someone off in a free-for-all?'
Rowell will talk about it today to ascertain how far his players were responsible. 'We have mentioned violence but let's keep it in perspective,' he said. 'It is not in our interests. We haven't got the skulduggers who are going to win in any violence. It's only going to inhibit the type of rugby we are trying to play, because we think we have a chance when we move the ball around.' The evidence in support of his contention had been before his eyes during approximately 79 minutes of the game.
As for the rugby, England can be heartened by many aspects of their play. For instance, Simon Shaw made a conspicuous tour debut just 30 hours after joining his new team-mates. The scrummage was solid, England shaded the line-outs and threatened danger whenever they established themselves in reasonable attacking position.
The problem previously had been an inability to satisfy the referees and the consequent inability to get anywhere near their opponents' line. Not this time. There should have been at least a second try when Adedayo Adebayo reached Stuart Barnes's delicate diagonal first, but the ball slipped from his grasp as he was touching down.
England also had a legitimate complaint when Fritz van Heerden knocked on during the creation of Christiaan Scholtz's try, an important second-half blow in favour of the South African second string after England had led 10-3 at the interval. Later, Joel Stransky was critically missed by Jonathan Callard en route to the A-team's subsequent try and it was his drop goal a few minutes before the mayhem that eventually won the game.
It should really have been England celebrating but what is more important, the result or the performance? The management would say the latter but, stuck on one from five, they could equally well have done with the former.
South Africa A: Tries Scholtz, Stransky; Penalties Stransky 2; Drop goal Stransky. England: Try Hopley; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 3.
SOUTH AFRICA A: C Dirks (Transvaal); S Berridge (Western Province), C Scholtz, J Mulder (Transvaal), C van der Westhuizen (Natal); J Stransky (Western Province), J Roux (Transvaal); G Pagel (Western Province), J Dalton, J le Roux, K Wiese (Transvaal), K Otto (Northern Transvaal), F van Heerden (Western Province), A Richter (Northern Transvaal, capt), A Venter (Orange Free State). Replacement: F Smit (Western Province) for Wiese, 78.
ENGLAND: J Callard (Bath); D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes (Bath), S Bates (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, J Mallett (Bath), S Shaw (Bristol), M Poole (Leicester), L Dallaglio, D Ryan (Wasps, capt), S Ojomoh (Bath).
Referee: S Neethling (Wellington, Boland).
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