Rugby Union: Woodward bemoans England's bare shelves

England 11 South Africa 29
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The Independent Online
Clive Woodward had suffered quite enough setbacks for one afternoon when he happened to cast a weary eye over a congested corner of the Twickenham interview zone. There, pinned against the balcony rails by a posse of notebook-wielding journalists, was Paul Grayson, the master marksman from Northampton and something of sporting rarity in late 20th century England. "For God's sake don't hurt him," shouted his coach. "If anyone so much as stands on his toe, there'll be trouble."

Given that English-qualified outside-halves - at least, those in possession of their full mental faculties and a complete set of serviceable limbs - have now been granted official status as an endangered species, it was not difficult to understand Woodward's protective outburst. With Mike Catt joining Alex King on an ever-lengthening casualty list, it would be easier to find water in a Yorkshire reservoir or a Teletubbie in a toy shop than a stand-off who is not crippled, concussed or foreign. Apparently, the selectors were considering both Tinky Winky and Laa Laa for this weekend's return Test against the All Blacks until they realised neither was a specialist goal-kicker.

Woodward was his usual good-humoured self after seeing his side outmuscled, outpaced and outlasted by a highly capable Springbok side who, after receiving the hurry-up treatment for much of the first half, grew ever more formidable throughout a second period that yielded 22 points and three tries without reply. But the coach was not joking when he painted a calamitous picture of the selection quandary facing him in the wake of Catt's concussion, the distinctly inconvenient result of an accidental encounter with Henry Honiball's kneecap. Catt was discharged from hospital yesterday after being treated for a torn cartilage on his ear as well as the concussion.

"Catt's injury dealt us a heavy blow, not least because he was playing brilliantly," he said. "The question now is where we go from here. Tell me where the English-qualified stand-offs are. Mike is out for three weeks, Alex King is still unfit. Grayson was earmaked for the midweek England A game with Leicester, but we're going to have to rethink the whole issue now. I've been talking about empty cupboards for weeks now and now you're looking at the empty shelves."

A problem, for sure, and one that can be solved only by the kind of Rugby Football Union diplomatic initiative with which Cliff Brittle and Fran Cotton, the men in charge, are seldom, if ever, associated. They need to talk the clubs into forging some sort of gentlemen's agreement restricting the numbers of non-English Premiership players while, at the same time, fast-tracking the ocean of talent sloshing around in second-string outfits or lounging around on benches.

Unfortunately for England, the Springboks exposed an even more pressing personnel problem; one that needs to be solved by men in tracksuits rather than pinstriped suits. Until Woodward finds some ball-carrying prop forwards who can at least give the likes of Os du Randt and Adrian Garvey a game, his chances of prevailing over a side as robust and potent as the world champions are on the anorexic side of slim.

It is not as if we are discussing the fat of the land here. England simply do not possess heavy-duty scrummagers who carry the same clout in open play as these two prime specimens of Bokke big game. Between them, Du Randt and Garvey weigh in at just over 37st and they used that ballast in every area of the Twickenham cabbage patch, whether scrummaging at the set-pieces, hoisting their jumpers into the stratosphere at the line- outs or generating irresistible force at the epicentre of the driving mauls that dominated and defined the second half of Saturday's match.

"Ask yourself how many times the pair of them laid their hands on the ball in general play and then compare their contribution with that made by the English props," said Nick Mallett, the Springbok coach, by way of underlining the enormous influence wielded by his state-of-the-art front- rowers. "I think it is right to say that the English were forced to give so much of themselves just to hold Os and Adrian in the scrums that when it came to other areas of the game, they were 20 metres off the pace. It was a key advantage for us."

So was the magnificence of Mark Andrews' definitive performance as a multi-talented, all-purpose lock forward. Such manifest superiority in the tight five was always going to come home to roost sooner or later and once Garvey had wrestled his way past Will Greenwood and Richard Hill for a thoroughly deserved try in first-half injury time, the writing was plastered all over the English wall like Afrikaans graffiti.

Andre Snyman, fast and vigorous in the Springbok midfield, caught poor Jason Leonard with his pants down for the second try on 53 minutes, Andrews slipped across in the right corner three minutes later after a withering five-man move sparked by the outstanding Dick Muir and after James Small had been denied a perfectly legitimate gem of a score by Colin Hawke, the referee from New Zealand, Werner Swanepoel completed what was fast becoming a rout following some stiletto-sharp work from the increasingly influential Percy Montgomery. Never before had England conceded so many Test points at Twickenham; rarely had they looked so helpless.

Yet once again, Woodward could find a degree of solace in defeat. Until the obvious power differential began to weigh heavy on the English forwards, the home side produced precisely the brand of fast, high-impact rugby that, sustained for 80 minutes rather than 30, might place them on a level playing field with the grandees of the southern hemisphere. Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill and the remarkable Neil Back fought out a compelling back- row conflict with Gary Teichmann, Andre Venter and Andrew Aitken and with Catt on a hot streak rather than a hot tin roof, the Boks found it difficult to settle.

But as Mallett correctly pointed out, the only tangible outcome of all that furious endeavour were a couple of penalties and a try for Nick Greenstock that belonged more to the Big Top than the big match. "To my mind, England need to show more creativity outside," he said. "Why don't they try giving Greenwood a drift pass or releasing their wings rather than kicking the ball in the air after three or four phases? They're organised and they know what they're about in defence, but they seem more interested in stopping the opposition scoring than scoring themselves."

And while the Springboks themselves won the 1995 World Cup on precisely those constricted terms, they know such narrow-mindedness has long been rendered obsolete by their traditional enemies from All Black land. Both Mallett and Woodward have acknowledged the new realities of rugby at the most rarified level, but while one of them has the world at his feet, the other has something similar on his shoulders.

England: Try Greenstock; Penalties Catt 2. South Africa: Tries Garvey, Snyman, Andrews, Swanepoel; Conversions Honiball 2, Montgomery; Penalty Honiball.

ENGLAND: M Perry (Bath); J Bentley (Newcastle), N Greenstock (Wasps), W Greenwood (Leicester), D Rees (Sale); M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: P Grayson (Northampton) for Catt, 40; C Sheasby (Wasps) for Hill, 57; A Healey (Leicester) for Bentley, 64; S Shaw (Wasps) for Grewcock, 68.

SOUTH AFRICA: P Montgomery (Western Province); J Small (Western Province), A Snyman (Northern Transvaal), D Muir (Western Province), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal), W Swanepoel (Free State); O du Randt (Free State), J Dalton (Gauteng), A Garvey (Natal), M Andrews (Natal), K Otto (Northern Transvaal), A Aitken (Western Province), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Free State).

Referee: C Hawke (New Zealand).

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