Rugby Union: England slip into disarray

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The Independent Online
Transvaal. . .24

England. . . .21

THE HUMILIATION heaped upon England's rugby tourists in South Africa continued at Ellis Park yesterday. Forget the margin of Transvaal's victory, the gulf in class between the two sides and particularly in their attitudes towards the game as it should be played, was at times awesomely wide.

The tourists were disallowed a perfectly good try when the score was tied at 11-11, but that injustice could not disguise their inadequacy. The referee, Ian Rogers of Natal, admitted after the match that he was wrong to whistle prematurely for a drop-out after Victor Ubogu fly-hacked upfield and Theo van Rensburg appeared poised to take the ball. In the event, he slipped behind his goal-line and Will Carling got a touch on the ball.

It was left to Transvaal to provide the breathtaking play. With six minutes remaining in what had become a thoroughly compelling contest, they let the ball loose down their three-quarter line as they had threatened to do for so much of the game. It had tugged England first one way then the other but had generally been thwarted by the tenacity of the tourists' defence. This time, however, there was no cover, no last-ditch tackle. Hennie Le Roux, a gem of a fly-half, slipped his marker and Jaco Louw was over in the corner. Van Rensburg converted and three minutes later he kicked a penalty in front of the posts. Rory Underwood's try in injury time was merely cosmetic.

And so the prize England coveted most outside the matches against South Africa has eluded them, although their manager, Jack Rowell, said he saw some improvements: 'It was our best performance on tour. We defended well before putting some good bits of rugby together.' Victory in the Test series is now the only thing that can save this trip from oblivion. 'When in doubt shut them out' has been England's clarion call in adversity in recent years. On such occasions they have closed ranks and played a game of such narrow ambition that the stupefying tedium has often frustrated opponents into defeat. With such tactics England looked as if they might succeed for periods of this match, despite the fact that at no stage were they ahead of opponents who were sharper to the loose ball and infinitely more inventive with it in their hands.

England's game, as we had expected after their previous misfortunes on this tour, was functional and pragmatic and based on the control of their forwards in the tight. Nigel Redman and Martin Johnson together with their taller loose forwards had the better of the lineout and their scrummage was secure enough. Andrew kicked and Dewi Morris, when he did not pass to Andrew, also kicked. If England were to triumph it was going to be victory by strangulation. But such tactics were not enough to inconvenience a side with the ball- running skills of Transvaal.

Francois Pienaar, the Springbok captain, reached parts of the field which were off-limits to England's more ponderous loose trio. James Dalton, the hooker, was irrepressible in the open and Rudolph Straueli, with wondrous sleight of hand for one so large, bewitched England time and again from his position at No 8. Too late it became apparent that England's tactic of kicking for the corners was not going to be sufficient. Transvaal, heartened by the inflexibility of their opponents, began to run from all parts of the field. With Van Rensburg offering them an extra dimension in attack, and both wings fast and strong, England spent most of the second half back on their heels, trapped inside their own half.

The first half, tight and tense, was much more to England's liking. Andrew, who had been kicking mighty distances in practice, missed with two penalties from short range but was successful with one. He then scored the cheekiest of tries when England were awarded a penalty wide on the wing inside the Transvaal 22. With the opposition holding a council of war behind their own line, Andrew sneaked over unnoticed in the corner. If it hardly qualified as a back-line move, it was certainly the closest that England got to mounting one.

Henne le Roux's earlier try had been a masterpiece of craftsmanship by comparison. Pienaar had breathed life into a move which had lost its impetus and Dalton, as he did so often, acted as the link for the fly-half to score. Van Rensburg and Andrew kicked first-half penalties and kept the scores level with two goals apiece until six minutes from the end. Andrew's third was from fully 65 yards, but time was beginning to run out for England. As the game drew to a close, Transvaal were clearly the stronger and the gaps in England's defence were getting wider. Their tour at this stage is in disarray.

Transvaal: Tries Le Roux, Louw. Conver sion Van Rensburg. Penalties Van Rensburg 4. England: Tries Andrew, R Underwood. Conversion Andrew. Penalties Andrew 3.

TRANSVAAL: T Van Rensburg; P Hendriks, C Scholtz, J Mulder, J Louw; H Le Roux, J Roux; B Swart, J Dalton, J Le Roux, K Wiese, H Strydom, F Pienaar (capt), I MacDonald, R Straueli.

ENGLAND: P Hull (Bristol); R Underwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), T Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), V Obogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke (Bath), D Richards (Leicester). Temporary replacement: S Bates (Wasps) for Morris, 17-22. Replacement Bates for Morris, 51.

Referee: I Rogers (Natal).

England's traumas, page 7