Rugby Union: South Africans spring back: Series finishes all square as England are overpowered by the might of a transformed home nation

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South Africa. . .27

England. . . . . .9

SELDOM has the beast been so quickly and completely transformed into the beauty. The bridge that had looked miles too far last week was crossed in triumph by a Springbok side bearing scant resemblance to the one who had yielded so tamely at Loftus Versfeld.

The raw hunger, the remorseless grind and the reckless commitment of the South Africans was in stark contrast to everything we had witnessed a week ago. First of all they broke England with their physical might and then ran them to ground by the lightning speed and accurate running of their backs. It was a destruction which, against a side of lesser quality, would have been annihilation.

'We have a lot of work to do before next year's World Cup if we are to have any chance,' Jack Rowell, the England manager, said. 'We knew they would hit us with everything they had and true to form they gave a very passionate performance.'

It was a gruelling match of unrelenting struggle in which England were scarcely allowed to set a foot outside their own half. On the very rare occasions when they reached the comfort zone of the Springbok 22, Rob Andrew kicked three penalties.

It was triumph of sorts, but in the context of a match in which South Africa were supreme in all areas of play, victory for England would have been a travesty.

'We badly needed that win to restore our pride and confidence,' Ian McIntosh, the South African coach, said. 'We built the foundations through our forwards and then cut loose later. But it was our tight forwards who set the platform for our victory.'

The changes in the Springbok pack made a startling difference at the set piece. Mark Andrews overpowered Martin Bayfield at the front of the line- out and the additional height of their back-row men, in particular Ian MacDonald, nullified England's advantage at the tail. Then there was the even more shattering realisation that England's scrummage was in serious trouble. Their retreat from the very first scrum gave the Springbok scrum-half Johan Roux a valuable platform from which he profited.

After feeding Paul Hull, once again the outstanding member of this England side, a few gentle scraps in the opening exchanges, he switched into a murderous bombardment of up and unders. That Hull was equal to all of them was confirmation of his exciting advance into international rugby.

But Roux's kicks, if a little overdone at times, had the desired effect on his forwards, who at last had an enticing target to aim at. Had Andre Joubert been anywhere close to the target with his goal-kicking, then the Springboks would have finished their business before half-time. The full-back missed three penalties, Hennie le Roux another, although he was successful shortly before half-time when England's embattled defence were penalised for going over the top at the ruck.

After all they had been through, something had to give. In a 20-minute spell during that enthralling first half England had been hit by wave upon wave of Springbok attacks. Brendan Venter's scoring pass to Pieter Muller had been adjudged forward, Chester Williams had dropped the ball with the line at his mercy and there had been countless last-ditch tackles to check the remorseless advance.

England were being pulverised. They were giving everything in what was becoming an increasingly unequal struggle and the only question at half- time was whether the Springboks had blown the fuse. Despite all their attacking brilliance, their inability to score a try had on occasions laid bare their frustration, and Muller had been extremely fortunate to escape after a stiff-arm assault on Phil de Glanville.

To add insult to what could have been a very severe injury on the England centre, the referee awarded the penalty to South Africa. But the Springboks had no need of such loutish behaviour when the richness of their talent was quite enough to win the day.

We knew that if they could keep the flame burning, then it was goodnight England. They were now without the lightning pace of Williams, who had gone off with concussion, but that turned out to be a minor inconvenience. Within three minutes of the restart, the Springboks were ahead for the first time in the series. Le Roux kicked the first of his two second-half penalties and Joubert kicked one after England had been penalised at the maul. Le Roux's second penalty had followed an intensive build-up of Springbok pressure.

Yet for all their possession, for all their mounting pressure, the Springboks were still unable to break England's defence. Incredibly, Rob Andrew's two penalties, one from inside his own half, kept England in touch when the ship which Geoff Cooke had built and which has steered an erratic course on this tour should have been long sunk. It was the cruellest misfortune for Andrew after his achievement last week that it was his lapse of concentration which finally brought the Springboks a try.

Critically, he took his eye off the ball in his 22 and knocked on. From the scrum Adriaan Richter picked up, slipped the ball to his captain Francois Pienaar, who put Hennie le Roux over. If it was Andrew's day at Loftus, it was undeniably le Roux's day at Newlands.

It is hard to remember a time in recent years when England have been so comprehensively outplayed. 'I thought that England were one degree under,' Rowell said. 'We lacked concentration at key times and it was only our heroic defence which kept us in the game for so long.

'I hoped that they might not be able to sustain their first-half performance but no such luck. We were under too much pressure up front.'

They were, of course, without their warrior-king Dean Richards, whose authority and physical presence were sorely missed.

It was questionable whether Tim Rodber was fit to play either mentally, after traumas at Port Elizabeth, or physically, after 72 hours of a debilitating illness. But that alone could not have turned the relentless tide of Springbok control and when, in the final minute, Joubert touched down in splendid isolation behind England's posts England were in shreds. And South African rugby was back where its supporters have always believed it belonged.

South Africa: Tries: Joubert, H le Roux; Conversion Joubert; Penalties H le Roux 3, Joubert 2. England: Penalties Andrew 3.

SOUTH AFRICA: A Joubert (Natal); J Small (Natal), P Muller (Natal), B Venter (Orange Free State), C Williams (Western Province); H le Roux (Transvaal), J Roux (Transvaal); B Swart (Transvaal), J Allan (Natal), J le Roux (Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), S Atherton (Natal), F Pienaar (Transvaal, capt), A Richter (Northern Transvaal), I MacDonald (Transvaal). Replacements: J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal) for Williams, 25; F van Heerden (Western Province) for MacDonald, 68.

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 (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Bayfield (Northampton), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke (Bath), S Ojomoh (Bath).

Referee: C Hawke (New Zealand).

Unpardonable blot, page 7

(Photograph omitted)

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