Deposed and dethroned, the old champions put up a fight

Battling display and lack of luck at the crunch moments meant England ceded their crown with grudging pride
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The Independent Online

Brave as they were, it was a game too far for England. But if they failed in their attempt to become the first team to retain the World Cup, they can take pride in that no team has ever defended it so worthily.

You can't complain about South Africa's victory in this Parisian climax but they didn't play well, just doing enough to keep their noses in front.

And without taking anything away from them, they may reflect that they've managed to win the trophy without having to face what were considered to be the other giants of the tournament. Other teams, England included, did that dirty work for them.

It may well have been different last night had the video referee confirmed that Mark Cueto had scored a try early in the second half. But he ruled that Cueto's left leg had brushed the line as he touched down to complete a move started so brilliantly by Mathew Tait, who had pierced the Springbok defence with a surging run and some terrific footwork.

From what I could see it was a definite try. To add even more grief to the incident, Schalk Burger should also have been sent to the sin-bin for a late assault on Tait.

A penalty was awarded, which Jonny Wilkinson duly put over, but England should have benefited from a sin-binning as well as a try. Who knows what would have happened from then on?

But setbacks like that have to be overcome and England weren't sharp enough throughout the whole 80 minutes to take advantage of their share of possession.

The main area of their downfall was the line-out. They lost one at the very start of the match and continued to struggle in that department. South African lock Victor Matfield was a towering presence in the line-out and deservedly won the man-of-the-match award.

The South Africans also had the answer to England's kicking game. They invariably had three players defending the kicks and sent them back with interest. This was a major drawback to England's attempts to get into good field positions. South Africa just soaked them up.

I thought England started too negatively. They were obviously expecting an early onslaught but it was eight minutes before the Boks made any inroads into England territory. Their first foray brought a mistake from Tait and Percy Montgomery helped himself. Then a trip by Lewis Moody on Butch James handed Montgomery another three points.

England built up a couple of promising drives but they were too anxious and Wilkinson missed with a drop-kick attempt. They had time and space to create a better opportunity but Jonny went too early.

As half-time approached I was quite happy to see South Africa returning England's kicks because had they kept the ball in hand they looked capable of causing trouble.

Twice, near the end of the first half, it was only desperate but well-organised England defence that kept the Boks out.

England came out for the second half looking to play with a higher tempo and more confidence and had Cueto's try been given I am sure they would have become more dangerous.

But as long as South Africa stayed in front, Montgomery was able to keep them there, even with a gammy leg.

One by one, England's stalwarts began to limp off from the fray. Captain Phil Vickery was the first to go, Jason Robinson followed and then Mike Catt.

With Tait and Toby Flood capable of the odd flourish, they never stopped battling to the end and it was only with a few minutes to go that South Africa felt comfortable for the first time in the match.

No one could have asked more of them.

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