Rugby Union: Springboks are history

England rewrite the script as Dawson's boot and Luger's fingertips destroy a South African dream
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The Independent Online
England 13 South Africa 7

Try: Guscott Try: Roussow

Con: Dawson Con: Montgomery Pens: Dawson 2

Half-time: 7-7 Attendance: 75,000

IT WAS not to be. In their 15-month odyssey of unbroken and only once paralleled success, the Springboks have ridden it out, toughed it out and, at times, wiped out the opposition. But at Twickenham yesterday they were denied the record they so desperately sought by an insurmountable combination of mother nature, the extortionate demands of a punishing schedule and a bloody-minded England.

If, in the admiring acknowledgement of England's triumph there are cautionary notes to be sounded, it is because doubts must remain as to how much this victory is attributable to England's remorselessly grinding power. And how much to the exhaustion of the Springboks.

From as early as the 10th minute it seemed that the Springboks had used up what small reserves of energy there were in the tank. And so they have been denied the record of 18 consecutive international victories and, on the evidence of yesterday's performance, it was perhaps just as well. For Gary Teichmann's side to be in any way superior to the great All-Black teams of the Sixties and especially those led in the latter years by Brian Lochore, would have been a travesty. Taking nothing away from England, the Springboks were woeful yesterday. Their decision- making, normally spot on, let them down badly as did their basic handling and passing. And England, who enjoyed massive territorial advantage, merely had to wait for the bounty which inevitably fell their way.

Of course, part of South Africa's difficulties was caused by the pressure exerted on them by England and when a virtuoso such as Joost van der Westhuizen is reduced to a convulsive wreck then England were clearly doing a lot right. It was a sad sight indeed when the great Springbok scrum-half, playing in his 50th international, hobbled off the field 20 minutes from the end.

England undoubtedly played with more enthusiasm and purpose than they displayed against the Wallabies last week. It has to be said, however, that there was little more in the way of flair and imagination, although Jeremy Guscott, who ripped several great holes in the Springbok defence, was a joy to watch. And Mike Catt, infuriatingly erratic as ever, did produce the kick of the match with his sublimely placed punt to Dan Luger on England's left wing. Luger not only controlled the ball but fended off Stefan Terblanche and, with Guscott looping round outside, England countered South Africa's opening try scored after seven minutes when Pieter Rossouw had beaten Nick Beal with embarrassing ease.

This was one of the few occasions when the Springboks approached the heights they have attained and, more remarkably, maintained during their phenomenal run. Their aching limbs responded briefly towards the end when Matt Dawson's two second-half penalties, both boldly struck, had given England a six-point cushion but time and again their bodies were unable to answer the call; either their slipshod handling or their equally careless passing and ball retention lost them the advantage.

The brutal truth is that England did not have to be a particularly good side to win which, given the occasion, was a pity. Their forwards again demonstrated their vigorous control in the setpiece and neither in the scrum or the line-out did they lose an inch in ground. Tim Rodber had another fine match. With the laws as they are he is surely the very model of a modern lock forward and this is where he should now be deployed by England.

The back row, too, played their part and, unlike their efforts last week, made more of an impact with initial forward thrusts which in turn generated greater momentum for those behind. If there are still doubts concerning England's creativity behind the scrum, there was at least the excuse that within the first quarter of the match they had lost two wingers, Tony Underwood and his replacement David Rees, with injury. Austin Healey, the replacement for Rees, was no more convincing than he had been against Australia and added substantially to what was an extremely trying day for Beal at the back with a dreadful in-field pass. Luger, on the other wing, was always constructive in attack and in defence made the most crucial intervention in the dying seconds when the Springboks broke out of their 22 in a final despairing effort to win the match. It was Luger's partial interception of the pass intended for Terblanche which saved the day. Mind you, even if the Springboks had scored it would have been in the corner and on his performance yesterday this would have been a kick too far for Percy Montgomery. The South African full-back is a pale imitation of the player who was ripping through the world's tightest defences just a few months ago and the poor fellow missed a penalty in front of the posts at a time when the Springboks most needed the three points.

How quickly had the promise of the opening minutes turned to despair. Bobby Skinstad's cut-out pass to Rossouw removing at a stroke three English men, was glorious and gave the winger more of an even chance against Beal, an opportunity he was not to miss. Skinstad, perhaps fresher than most of his colleagues, did his best to keep his team afloat for the rest of the half but long before the end he, like the rest, had faded from sight. England's equalising try was clearly a planned move, although it left a lot to chance. Catt's kick had to be perfect so did Luger's positioning and so did Guscott's running off the ball. This time all three worked in glorious harmony and Guscott's try, which Dawson converted, was the high point of what, to the neutral observer at least, was another disappointing match.

But if England are to be taken seriously as World Cup contenders, these are the matches they will have to win. By doing so, convincingly enough on the day, they will have done wonders for their self-confidence and will in the process have eased the pressure on their increasingly beleaguered coach, Clive Woodward.

England: N Beal (Northampton); T Underwood (Newcastle), P de Glanville (Bath), J Guscott (Bath), D Luger (Harlequins); M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester); M Johnson (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester).

Replacements: D Rees (Sale) for Underwood, 8; A Healey (Leicester) for Rees, 20; A King (Wasps) for M Catt, 59-60; M Corry (Leicester) for de Glanville, 59; King for Corry, 60; D Grewcock (Saracens) for Rodber, 67.

South Africa: P Montgomery (Western Province); S Terblanche (Boland), A Snyman (Blue Bulls), C Stewart (Western Province), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal), J van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls); R Kempson (Natal), J Dalton (Golden Lions), A Garvey (Natal); K Otto (Blue Bulls), M Andrews (Natal), J Erasmus (Free State), G Teichman (Natal, capt), R Skinstad (Western Province).

Replacements: O Le Roux (Natal) for Kempson, 26-40; A Venter (Free State) for Andrews, 50; Le Roux for Garvey, 59; N Drotske (Free State); W Swanepoel (Free State) for van der Westhuizen, 59.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).

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