England. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
BEFORE the miracle of Loftus Versfeld it was hard to imagine how England could win the first Test. Now it is hard to imagine how they can lose the second in Cape Town this Saturday. This was one of the great, defining performances in English rugby history.
So from being pre-Test low-hopers, their chances derided by most South Africans on the basis not only of what had been seen in four defeats in five tour matches but also the unexceptional evidence of the Five Nations' Championship, they are suddenly the exemplars of all that is good in world rugby. It is role reversal with a vengeance after the despondency of the previous Saturdays' defeats by Transvaal and Natal. 'This great, stunning England team showed us how Test rugby should be played,' the awestruck Northern Transvaal Rugby Union president, Hentie Serfontein, eulogised. This was not the way folk in Pretoria had been talking all week.
'We didn't lose, we weren't beaten, we were demolished,' Jannie Engelbrecht, the Springbok manager, added as endorsement. Yet there had been nothing beyond the tour management's insistence that Test-match rugby was fundamentally different to indicate England were capable of such outright perfection - no exaggeration - that they could lead by 20 points after 15 minutes.
They won the ball but then, as importantly, actually used it more positively than at any time
since . . . well, since they beat another South African side at Twickenham by the same record 17-point margin 18 months ago. Springbok rugby, we are assured, has advanced enormously since then; it did not look like it on Saturday.
For England, this was far more convincing than the defeat of New Zealand last November, better even than the string of famous victories in Paris, better than anything, in fact, since Geoff Cooke became manager in 1987 and brought order from chaos. 'We've had some phenomenal victories,' Rob Andrew said. 'But because it's in South Africa - with the margin of the win, and after two pretty poor performances in the past fortnight - it's got to go down as the best that this side have had.'
Of all the players, Andrew had most cause to exult. His kicking fallibility was triumphantly rectified. He placed seven of nine attempts at goal, augmented by a 19th international drop goal to beat Naas Botha's world record, and the precious gift of a try, for a 27-point total that surpassed Jon Webb's England record (against Italy in 1991) by three.
But even these remarkable figures tell less than the whole story. Andrew and Dewi Morris were consistently correct in their choice of where and how to attack, and from the half-backs spread a confidence that engulfed first the pack and then everyone else. The ball- carrying of the forwards was exceptional, both for the ground it gained and the unbroken consistency with which possession was retained in the tackle. By comparison, the Springboks were loose and profligate.
The solution to the obvious South African imponderable - how long it would take an unfamiliar collection of individuals to combine as a team - turned out to be the 20 minutes during which they were laid waste and conceded 23 points. Once they finally had England's measure, it was too late. And though Andre Joubert chipped away at the deficit with his five penalties, England were simply pausing for a long breath after their whirlwind opening.
South Africa could be excused had they been distracted by the emotional preliminaries, in which they met Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk, and the overwhelming sense of occasion caused by representing the whole of South Africa for the first time.
The new flag of the new republic, emroidered on their shorts, was a visible symbol, though the old flag still greatly outnumbered the new among the virtually all- white audience. But if the 'Boks really were distracted, it had as much to do with the sponsors' logos that have turned them into walking hoardings as by the symbolism of the Rainbow Nation. So distracted, in fact, that they coupled their protest with a demand that they receive a cut of the deal. Arrangements are now said to be in hand - if so, yet another example of the South Africans' flagrant disregard for amateur regulations.
Good luck to them. Being lectured on the virtue of amateurism by Ian Beer, the Rugby Football Union president, at a committee dinner on Friday night would have been enough to turn anyone to professionalism and, to be frank, it is simply not an issue here anymore. On the other hand, little good it did them in the Test match. All the drive, all the sensibly positive rugby came from England. Even the unmissable blond head of Francois Pienaar, the South African captain, was concealed in anonymity and, with England happy to concede penalties as cynically as any All Black, South Africa's vaunted back division seldom progressed other than across the field.
The contrast could not have been more complete. England worked a lovely move bringing Tony Underwood inside Andrew for the first try. They had tried, and rather abjectly failed, to get it right in training on Friday but this time it worked impeccably, with Ben Clarke hurtling up in support and then taking defenders with him over the last 10 unstoppable yards. Andrew hoisted a garryowen to create his own second, eerily reminiscent of two of the tries South Africa conceded at Twickenham. As the outside-half levitated to reach the descending ball, Joubert, distracted by Jason Leonard, remained grounded. Only a quarter of an hour had passed. 'We were clock-watching from 60 minutes; we couldn't believe it,' the scorer said in demure self-salute.
England have lately struggled so badly to score anything beyond the occasional penalty that their disbelief was wholly believable, their satisfaction tinged with regret that they do not play half as well as this more often. 'I don't think I've played better than that before; it was the most satisfying performance I've ever given,' the magnificent Tim Rodber said. Any of his team-mates could have said the same.
South Africa: Penalties Joubert 5. England: Tries Clarke, Andrew; Conversions Andrew 2; Penalties Andrew 5; Drop goal Andrew.
SOUTH AFRICA: A Joubert; J Small, P Muller (Natal), B Venter (Orange Free State), C Williams (Western Province); H le Roux (Transvaal), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); A le Roux (OFS), J Allan (Natal), B Swart, H Strydom (Transvaal), S Atherton (Natal), F van Heerden, T Strauss (WP), F Pienaar (Transvaal, 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 Bayfield (Northampton), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath). Replacement: S Ojomoh (Bath) for Richards, 56.
Referee: C Hawke (New Zealand).
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content