Rugby Union: Pinkney brightens a grey performance

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England 46

South Africa 0

THE charitable explanation is that the Rhinos are quick learners, but a mere 46 points against a raw South Africa side must rank alongside Oslo in a week of English under-achievements.

Two tries by centre Nick Pinkney - the second after an 80-yard run - brightened a lacklustre display, but only in the latter stages, with South Africa tiring, did England begin to approach the expected landslide. It was a heroic effort by South Africa, who have been playing competitive league for less than three years, and never at this level, and were given a warm ovation whistle.

England coach Phil Larder was none the less encouraged. "Our aims were to qualify, to top the group and to have the best defensive record," he said. "I'm delighted we've done that." Despite the absence of some of England's key players, including Shaun Edwards, who withdrew yesterday morning with an infected knee, England should have done much better, though. Edwards must now be doubtful for Saturday's World Cup semi-final at Old Trafford against Wales or Western Samoa.

With South Africa having been beaten 52-6 by Fiji and 86-6 by Australia, England were expected to score at will. They started slowly, but Keighley centre Pinkney calmed England's nerves in the 15th minute when he finished off a move involving Daryl Powell and Phil Clarke to score.

England suffered another injury set-back when Halifax winger John Bentley limped off with what appeared to be a damaged hamstring. But two tries in four minutes from Wigan forward Simon Haughton, making his full England debut, and Bobby Goulding - who converted both - made it 16-0 to help England breathe easier.

No one was more disappointing on an evening of disappointment than Martin Offiah, playing his first match of the tournament. It had seemed unfair of England to launch a heavy hitter like Offiah against a team that had conceded 150 points in their first two matches, but his presence seemed to be more unsettling for England.

Offiah had reportedly spent part of the week in a compression chamber to speed up his recovery, and several times he must have wished he was still there. He always seemed to be on the wing when the ball was turned inside.

Pinkney and Barrie-Jon Mather in the centre, had more luck, and both of Pinkney's tries were the result of the kind of direct action which England lacked for most of the match.

Goulding, drafted to replace Edwards, was one of the only other England successes. His kicking was astute and his 18 points included a neat try just before half-time which lifted England when they were flagging.

In theory, any narrowing of the gap between developed and developing rugby league nations is healthy and will have pleased the sponsors, who were worried the Centenary World Cup would be a damp squib, but the 14,000 spectators will have been disappointed with an apparent lack of interest on the part of some England players. Asked what his players had learnt from the competition, South African coach Tony Fisher said: "They've learnt how to play rugby league."

England: Cook (Leeds); Bentley (Halifax), Pinkney (Keighley), Mather (Wigan), Offiah (Wigan); Powell (Keighley), Goulding (St Helens); Harrison (Halifax), Cassidy (Wigan), Platt (Auckland Warriors), Haughton (Wigan), Joynt (St Helens), Clarke (Sydney City Roosters, capt). Substitutes: Radlinski (Wigan) for Bentley, 22; Broadbent (Sheffield) for Harrison, 40; Sampson (Castleford) for Platt, 40; Smith (Castleford) for Powell, 63.

South Africa: Van Wyk (Eastern Reds); Koombe (Durban), Fourie (Dewsbury), Boshoff (Dewsbury), Ballot (Bay of Plenty); Johnson (Workington), Alkema (Barea); Watts (Dewsbury), van Deventer (Dewsbury), Booysen (Dewsbury, capt), Alberts (Pretoria), Williams (Durban), Mudgeway. Substitutes: Cloete (Barea) for van Deventer, 4; Visser for Williams, 17; Jennings for Mudgeway, 35; Williams for Booysen, 48; Lubbe for Alberts, 62.

Referee: D Manson (Australia).

Australia advance, page 27