Rugby Union: 'They're sick to death of me'

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The Independent Online
THEY KNEW even as they stepped off the coach. Well, England's coach Clive Woodward knew. "When we got off the team bus the whole atmosphere was brilliant, and the feeling in the ground reinforced that," said a delighted Woodward. "I was confident we would get the win."

Everyone had praise for everyone else. With one solitary exception no one put a foot wrong. That one exception was Matt Dawson and it was a momentary glitch beyond his control. England's stand-in goal-kicker, following the enforced withdrawal of his club colleague at Northampton Paul Grayson, owned up to one little slip - literally. "When I missed that first penalty I knew precisely what I had done wrong," explained Dawson. "I got the footing wrong. It was not quite right for my plant foot [the left foot]. It was a dodgy bit of ground where there had been a scrum and it slipped a little." Just enough to sail narrowly wide of the left-hand upright, but not so far that it put Dawson off later in the game. He landed two critical subsequent penalties and did not feel under any pressure.

"I practise a lot with Grays all the time and we talk about kicking. When I was taking the kicks I thought about him. After all he is probably one of the world's best kickers. Grays had told me just to kick in my rhythm and not to worry about the crowd." He did that to near perfection.

And referring to his heroics for the British Lions against the Springboks in 1997, Dawson said with a grin: "I think South Africa are probably going to be sick to death of me by the end of my career." For now, though, he wants to savour the moment. "This is the best thing that has happened to me in my England career. It has not been better than that in an England jersey." To see Dawson perform, that self-belief is already at work. The scrum-half said: "After what the four home countries have achieved this autumn I think it is going to be a belter of a World Cup next year. I think we have realised that the southern hemisphere teams are fallible. We made some inroads against Australia last week; Wales were desperately unlucky against the South Africans; Ireland and Scotland both raised their game against the Springboks. When you bring France into the World Cup equation there could be five or six sides capable of winning it. And if the southern hemisphere teams have any sense they will be watching the Five Nations very closely."

The downsides were the dislocated shoulder suffered by centre Phil de Glanville, the knee injury to wing Tony Underwood and a shoulder injury to David Rees. But even the walking wounded will not feel any pain after a momentous win.