If it is possible for a major Test victory to be forged in the image of its principal creator - and at the current stage of the red rose cycle, no victory could be more major than this - the world champions' ruthless subjugation of the Springboks before a disbelieving Twickenham audience will forever be regarded as a prime example.
If it is possible for a major Test victory to be forged in the image of its principal creator - and at the current stage of the red rose cycle, no victory could be more major than this - the world champions' ruthless subjugation of the Springboks before a disbelieving Twickenham audience will forever be regarded as a prime example. Nineteen Englishmen played an active role in reducing South African rugby to its component parts for the umpteenth successive time, and had they all taken the field wearing Andy Robinson masks and stood offside for the entire 80 minutes without being spotted by the referee, they could not have performed more accurate impersonations of their new head coach.
As a freakishly competitive Bath flanker of the diehard school, Robinson played all his rugby the same way: teeth bared, fists clenched, eyes ablaze, rugby brain alive to every opportunity under the sun, some of them legal, others downright criminal. If a ball needed killing, he would kill it; if he was called upon to neutralise a dangerous opponent by fair means or foul, the neutralisation would not be long in coming; if the state of the game demanded that he receive a thorough seeing-to for his sins, that seeing-to was accepted unquestioningly.
On Saturday, the Robinson spirit passed into the body politic of the England team. As a result, they left a wonderfully gifted but terminally naïve Springbok team face down in the mud and slime of a soaking south-west London. "Men against boys," muttered Robinson's opposite number, Jake White. "When did I know the game was over? Not long after the start. I'm not ashamed to say it: they bullied us off the ball out there, and I was impressed by the way they went about their work. Back home in South Africa, people think we're big and strong. They should wake up and smell the reality."
Robinson would be sorely offended by the merest suggestion that this significant step forward was taken by anyone but his players, yet there was much talk amongst the England fraternity afterwards of the coach's influence in the days and hours leading into the match. "Andy is good at getting into your mind," said Graham Rowntree, the gnarled old Leicester prop who produced the performance of his life in a front row so superior that the by the end of the afternoon, the ancient Springbok mantra of "skrum, skrum and skrum again" had the stench of bitter irony about it. "He said the right things to the right people at the right moments. Individually and collectively, we were absolutely ready for the challenge."
That challenge was expected to be formidable, even though the inexperienced Boks were emotionally strung-out after a week of negativity on and off the field - defeat in Dublin, open and damaging debate about the modus operandi of their best player, the flanker Schalk Burger, and a torrent of torment on that most ultra-sensitive of topics, the racial balance of the starting line-up. Yet it evaporated in the time it took Rowntree and his pug-ugly brethren, Steve Thompson and Julian White, to establish complete authority, psychological as much as physical, over the Bokke set-piece.
Only once in their history had England so comprehensively out-scrummaged the South Africans, and that was in 2002, when the Boks fielded two puppy-props in sporting nappies and an old hooker who needed a bus pass to get from ruck to ruck. This combination was different. Eddie Andrews is nobody's idea of a Test-class tight-head, but the other two-thirds of the tourists' front row featured Os du Randt, one of the great loose-head specialists of the last half-century, and John Smit, the captain. To see them on the skids inside five minutes, and to hear the referee, Alain Rolland, warn Smit against copping out of the contest - "Please take the pressure, No 2," he pleaded - was jaw-dropping.
Largely thanks to the efforts of Rowntree and company, Steve Borthwick was able to carry the ball further and more dynamically than in any of his previous Tests, and the back row of Joe Worsley, Lewis Moody and Martin Corry were given the run of the park. How they revelled in their freedom. Moody has energy to burn, and he was all over Burger like a bad suit. Worsley smashed into the tackle areas without fear or favour - one gruesome hit on Smit threatened to make a soprano of him - while Corry revisited the peaks he scaled on the 2001 Lions tour of Australia. He laughed in the face of the Springboks' appointed hard case, AJ Venter, and made mincemeat of the gifted but conciliatory Joe van Niekerk.
When a pack is so dominant in what Philippe Saint-André, the former French captain and current coach of Sale, likes to call "the bad things", it is difficult for a back division to mess up completely. The England backs did not look like messing up at all, marshalled as they were by the ever-inventive Charlie Hodgson, whose 27 points included a rare full house, and driven to ever greater efforts by Josh Lewsey, whose naggingly persistent display on the left wing was unashamedly of the pain-in-the-rear variety.
A splash of white-shirted colour either side of the 20-minute mark yielded tries for Hodgson, who made mugs of both Jaco van der Westhuyzen and Percy Montgomery before stretching over in Breyton Paulse's tackle, and Mark Cueto, who appeared from somewhere in the vicinity of Richmond High Street to pick Henry Paul's extravagant cross-kick out of the stratosphere in the act of diving over the line. The rest was too simple for words. Pressure, position, penalty, three points. Thanks for coming. Have a nice day.
Two years ago, the Springbok hierarchy responded to the humiliation of their 53-3 defeat by snarling: "We'll see you in Perth, at the World Cup." By this, they meant: "We'll see you in hell." At the weekend, there was not a single threatening statement, implied or otherwise, to be heard. Jake White, suddenly faced with the demands of crisis management ahead of the forthcoming internationals in Scotland and Argentina, could not have been more disarming. "I'm not disillusioned because I'm not particularly surprised," he said. "I thought they would be dominant up front, although I didn't quite forsee the extent of that dominance."
Rowntree, bless him, was buying none of it. "Balls," he rapped. "I can't believe a Springbok coach would say such a thing. We've seen the Boks dominate opponents for decades - domination is all they respect, the only language they understand. To do the business against a South African pack is as good as it gets." It was yet another reading from the Gospel According to Saint Robbo. Give the opposition nothing. Not on the field, not off the field, not ever.
England: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto (both Sale), M Tindall (Bath), H Paul (Gloucester), J Lewsey (Wasps); C Hodgson (Sale), A Gomarsall (Gloucester); G Rowntree (Leicester), S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), D Grewcock, S Borthwick (both Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), M Corry, L Moody (both Leicester).
Replacements: A Hazell (Gloucester) for Moody 6-14 and for Worsley, 72; H Ellis (Leicester) for Gomarsall, 67; B Kay (Leicester) for Borthwick, 72; W Greenwood (Harlequins) for Paul, 72.
South Africa; P Montgomery (Newport-Gwent Dragons); B Paulse, M Joubert, D Barry, J de Villiers (all Western Province); J van der Westhuyzen (NEC, Japan), F du Preez (Blue Bulls); O du Randt (Free State Cheetahs), J Smit (Natal, capt), E Andrews (Western Province), B Botha, V Matfield (both Blue Bulls), S Burger, J Van Niekerk (both Western Province), A J Venter (Natal).
Replacements: C J van der Linde (Free State Cheetahs) for Du Randt, 17-24 and for Andrews, 43; D Rossouw (Blue Bulls) for Venter, 54; B Habana (Lions) for De Villiers, 74; J Fourie (Lions) for Paulse, 77.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland)Reuse content