Rugby Union: England's victory fails to convince: Tony Underwood turns in brilliant two-try performance but the tourists still struggle

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THE SWEET relief of yesterday's victory at the third attempt in South Africa was soured for England's beefed- up development team by another barren performance and the familiar excuse of an incomprehensible referee.

'We have no idea what we are being penalised for,' Will Carling, England's captain, said after dejectedly trooping off Olen Park clear in the knowledge that his team should be doing much, much better. He had spent much of the game quizzing the referee about his decisions and finished none the wiser than he had been at the start. Adding injury to the insult, Carling now has a dislocated thumb, which seriously threatens to keep him out of Saturday's match against Transvaal.

The final penalty count of 23-10 in Western Transvaal's favour is a bald statistic that does scant justice to English problems in the line-out where, they complain, each new referee they encounter on tour has different, frequently contradictory requirements.

In fact, they found Neville Heilbron so questionable that within half an hour he was issuing an instruction - via Steve Bates, who he mistook for Carling - to shut up, or else he would send someone off. Saturday's game brings Ian Rogers, South Africa's leading referee, and England know their first team will have to adapt all over again.

Curiously, England cleaned up in the line-out by more than three to one as well as being penalised at least seven times for line-out offences. But even this wealth of possession was not - and sometimes could not be - put to profitable use.

Carling testily asserted that most of it came in England's half and so was too risky to do much with, the implication being that Heilbron was quite happy to give the tourists their head whenever the position was unthreatening.

Just as well, then, that Dewald Basson was out of touch with his kicking to the extent of missing four from nine and that the highly imaginative and creative approach work of the home backs brought such little reward. Basson is the man who amassed 41 points when Westerns beat Namibia 61-53 recently. As for the backs, they were hammered not only by England's tackling but also by their own butterfingers.

Still, at least it was a win, which was about the only thing Jack Rowell, the manager, could bring himself to applaud. As Rowell had to admit, all the training sessions in the world ultimately mean nothing. 'We're not playing the game we practise,' he said. 'When we get on a pitch, something else happens.'

It may be a consolation that a New Zealander, Colin Hawke, is refereeing the Tests, but in the meantime local referees are doing nothing to build pre-Test confidence. After all, Western Transvaal are a second division side who are routinely trounced by half- centuries by the likes of Transvaal and Western Province.

A more direct comparison is with the ground-breaking Wallabies of 1992, whose midweek team won 46-13 in Potchefstroom, but then they went on to thrash the Springboks and, with the best will in the world, there is no sign of England following suit. Indeed, if yesterday's team had not had the benefit of Carling and three other Test probables, this would surely have been defeat No 3.

One of these, Tony Underwood, produced one of his best games, not simply because he scored two tries but because everything he did, much of it in desperate defence, reflected the highest class.

His first try-scoring run took him 80 yards after a typical Western Transvaal handling breakdown had provided him with the ball. The second was created by the single decisive piece of England passing, the backs on Stuart Barnes's outside a decoy for the inside pass with which he helped free Underwood. Westerns' first try by Markus van Greunen came through an undefended blind side. Basson squeezed in at the corner for the second in injury time; England players, true to form, protested to the referee. True to form, it was to no avail.

Western Transvaal: Tries Van Greunen, Basson; Conversion Basson; Penalties Basson 4. England: Tries T Underwood 2; Conversions Barnes 2; Penalties Barnes 4.

WESTERN TRANSVAAL: J Blaauw; A Vermeulen, J van Wyk (Potchefstroom University), D Swart (Potchefstroom Police), D Basson; E Hare (Potchefstroom Dorp, capt), A Pretorius (Potchefstroom Univ); E Grobler, L Boshoff (Potchefstroom Dorp), M Proudfoot (Potchefstroom Univ), P Oosthuizen (Klerksdorp Police), P Herbst, A Kriek (Vaal Reefs), S Bekker, M van Greunen (Potchefstroom Univ). Temporary substitute: A Lincoln (Potchefstroom Dorp) for Bekker, 20-26.

ENGLAND: P Hull (Bristol); D Hopley (Wasps), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), S Potter, T Underwood (Leicester); S Barnes (Bath), S Bates (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, J Mallett, N Redman (Bath), M Bayfield (Northampton), D Ryan (Wasps), S Ojomoh, B Clarke (Bath). Replacement: J Callard (Bath) for Barnes, 75.

Referee: N Heilbron (Cape Town).

Ireland beaten, page 43

(Photograph omitted)

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