Corry and Co make Charlie new darling of Twickenham

Jonny's stand-in foot perfect thanks to mighty pack
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The Independent Online

How soon they forget. A year on from Sydney, and there will have undoubtedly been a few souls being tempted as they strode buoyantly away from a dank, dismal stadium to reflect: "Sir Clive Who? Jonny Who?" Perhaps even: "Martin and Law-rence Who?"

How soon they forget. A year on from Sydney, and there will have undoubtedly been a few souls being tempted as they strode buoyantly away from a dank, dismal stadium to reflect: "Sir Clive Who? Jonny Who?" Perhaps even: "Martin and Law-rence Who?"

It was an afternoon for two stand-ins, quiet men both, a shy Charlie Hodgson at fly-half and Jason Robinson, who had taken a pre-match vow of silence, as captain, but both deputising for Jonny Wilkinson, to relish. And it was just as much an occasion for the coach, Andy Robinson, to confirm that he has already impressed his own character on this post-Woodward England team.

Yet, just as crucially, it was time to reflect on a thoroughly imposing performance by Martin Corry at No 8, epitomising the England pack's impressive dedication to the cause, one which can offer England supporters convincing evidence that the responsibilities of Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio have passed into safe hands. Joe Worsley on the flank and Danny Grewcock at lock were also significant influences. "I thought the players' frame of mind this morning was exciting, and credit to them," reflected the coach.

"Their attitude has been brilliant, and to deliver on the day, in quite tough conditions, was superb. From numbers one to 22, every player has bought into it, led tremendously well by Jason Robinson. Martin Corry had a fabulous game, based on the work of the front five."

Robinson's reputation has been constructed on his ability to mould a pack equal to or better than any in world rugby, and that was highlighted here. "It was a tremendous performance from the forwards, but what led the performance was our defensive work," he said. "We didn't allow South Africa any momentum."

But in the main, this was Hodgson's day, from the moment he was buffeted crudely to the turf in the opening seconds by Victor Matfield. England must have suspected the Boks would attempt to prove themselves as intimidating as their tradition dictates. How erroneous that impression was to prove.

From the instant the Sale Shark hoisted the ensuing penalty through the posts with an unerring sense of direction, the first of 27 points he accumulated with boot and hand, he defined a performance which will give Robinson, the coach, considerable cause for thought, if not in the next week, then in the prelude to next year's Six Nations tournament.

Hodgson's kicking was immaculate, his handling clean, his influence always apparent. All his game lacked was a decent defensive examination by the opposition, thought that was scarcely his fault. If there was a disturbing aspect, and something to exercise the defence coach, Phil Larder,ahead of the Australia confrontation here, it was South Africa's late response. Perhaps it was required to haul England out of any complacency.

Hodgson's coach understandably confirmed the 24-year-old's selection for next Saturday's World Cup final rematch - but nothing longer term. "Charlie played well," said Robinson. "He was one of the pluses of our summer tour, and his performances for Sale have given him a real confidence. It was a mature performance. We've always known he has been a very good passer. Now he's getting through the holes. He's taken his opportunity, and he's done brilliantly."

Asked whether he could play Hodgson and Wilkinson together when they are both fit, a mischievous Robinson said: "We'll see. When the players are fit I will be making that decision and at the moment Jonny is injured."

Before the game, Robinson had denied that this was "a new era", insisting it was merely the continuation of the team being rebuilt by Woodward. Yet, there appeared a refreshing freedom of approach by a team still under construction. Certainly, they were not daunted by any physical threat from opponents who, two years ago, had meted out a savage physical beating before submitting to a 53-3 defeat. The result could well have been the same this time, but without the malevolence aforethought, had England's second half continued in the exemplary manner of the first.

South Africa had arrived in these islands seeking a Grand Slam tour. Two defeats, by Ireland and now here, have placed those aspirations firmly in perspective. Indeed, well before the conclusion of this game the England supporters would have been asking: "Schalk who?" about the Western Province flanker of that name, surname Burger, who rarely resembled the ogre that he had been portrayed after being sin-binned on his last two outings.

Yet, it is difficult not to ponder, however, just how much effect the political interference on the selection of their team had. In the week that England's footballers were confronted by racism, we found their rugby union brethren meeting a team coming to terms with racial quotas. South Africa is, as they contend, "unique" and one can well comprehend a policy that encourages the development of black players. But it simply cannot be right, at this level, for a team to be constructed on racial grounds. In the event, South Africa ended up with one, not the prescribed two black players on the pitch. The man concerned, left winger Bryan Habana, scored the visitors' only try.

That late response could not diminish England's pleasure as they relished a sixth consecutive success against South Africa. Coach Robinson, though a vegetarian, will have enjoyed witnessing his men taste the blood of Springboks.

'The better I play the more pressure is on Andy'

A lot of things had been said about how this game was make or break for me and I was very nervous. I just wanted to put in a good performance and fortunately it happened. The better I play the more pressure it puts on Andy Robinson to keep picking me.England stand-off Charlie Hodgson

He is playing brilliantly and I am pleased for Charlie that he is taking his opportunities. When the players are fit I will be making that decision [between Hodgson and Wilkinson in the No 10 shirt] and at the moment Jonny is injured. England head coach Andy Robinson

If Jonny Wilkinson had been playing, England's forwards would really have smashed us. He would have kicked the ball 60 metres into our 22 and then they'd really have put the pressure on. Hodgson only kicks it 30 to 40 metres. Jake White, the Springbok coach.

These guys would have been frustrated over the last three or four years not to have had the opportunity. Today was their opportunity, and they owed it to themselves to take it. Sometimes the opportunities don't come around again. Andy Robinson

The message from today was now we know why England are world champions. Physically we were dominated in every part of the match. It was like a schoolboy side playing against men. They are the best side we've played this year by far. Jake White

What led the performance was our defensive work. We got in their faces and knocked them over. Andy Robinson

We'll enjoy it, but there's a lot of work to do. England captain Jason Robinson