England cautious as Krige and Co come in search of salvation

South Africans on the rebound pose a formidable physical challenge capable of grounding Woodward's high-flyers

The World Cup holders of Australia? Dealt with. The Tri-Nations champions of New Zealand? Ditto. Now for the South Africans, who are champions of very little and have not beaten England home or away since the controversial Test at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld stadium 29 months ago.

"This is a colossal match, with both teams under pressure," insisted Clive Woodward, the red rose manager, yesterday. Given the choice, Woodward would far rather be under his type of pressure than the variety weighing down his opposite number, Rudolf Straeuli.

When it comes to rugby union, South Africa always expects. The difference today is that the sporting hard-heads back home, from former Springbok luminaries like Danie Gerber and Hempies du Toit to Joe van Average in his Bloemfontein bar, expect the tourists to finish a very poor second: poorer even than last year, when Bob Skinstad's men shipped 29 points and disappeared down the tubes of a record 20-point margin of defeat. For the first time in living memory, maybe the first time ever, the Boks are widely considered to be on a hiding to nothing on European soil. If those considerations prove accurate, Straeuli may quickly find himself in P45 country.

On the face of it, there are precious few reasons for any semblance of Springbok cheerfulness. They finished bottom of the 2002 Tri-Nations – but for Werner Greeff's late intervention in Johannesburg, when he converted his own injury-time try to repulse the Wallabies, they would have lost four from four – while, in the Super 12 provincial tournament, the bottom three places were filled by South African franchises. The fourth of those franchises, the Cape Town-based Stormers, reached the giddy heights of seventh, still below the halfway cut and a million miles from a knock-out place.

If the likes of Greeff, Brent Russell, Marius Joubert and Andre Pretorius played some hot rugby in defeat during those months of torment, they have been as cold as charity during this tour. A record defeat in Marseilles, followed – horror of horrors – by a thumping of unprecedented proportions at Murrayfield has been further compounded by injuries to a quartet of potential first-choicers for this afternoon's final fixture: Joubert, Jean de Villiers, Neil de Kock and Lawrence Sephaka. Even the weather has turned against the visitors. Rain and mud puts the onus on the tight five, and the Boks do not possess a tight anything.

Yet the England coaches are cautious, and with good reason. Straeuli's team may be under-baked in important areas, not least at prop, but the likes of Corne Krige, James Dalton, Robbie Fleck and Butch James, who enjoys a legitimate tackle and positively loves an illegitimate one, have a touch of the warrior's soul about them. The corresponding match two years ago was a brute of a contest, all blood and gore and stitches, and, while the tourists are far more vulnerable now than they were then, they can still be expected to scrap for the honour of the shirt they wear.

"South Africa are consistently the most physical side we meet," confirmed Andy Robinson, whose job it is to prime the English forwards. "We know they will come route one at us, because that is what they always do, irrespective of personnel. For someone like Lewis Moody [the energetic young Leicester flanker who has repeatedly caught the eye over the last fortnight] this match poses a different test to anything he has yet experienced. He will have less time to think, less time to make decisions. I have never seen him shirk the physical aspect of the game, which, under the circumstances, is just as well."

Moody will do himself a whole lot of good if he prospers against Krige, a crafty sort who will find ways to cramp the Englishman's style. Likewise, Steve Thompson, the Northampton hooker, can expect a warmish welcome from the piratical Dalton; Phil Christophers, the newcomer on England's left wing, will have his wits stretched this way and that by the wonderfully gifted Breyton Paulse; Will Greenwood will need to be at his most resilient to survive the attentions of James and Fleck, neither of whom are particularly well read in rugby jurisprudence.

It is a big game for Jason Robinson, who needs to convince a growing band of sceptics that his rugby league-style individualism is suited to the full-back position, and for Mike Tindall, whose admirable defensive qualities are not generally held in the same regard as Greenwood's attacking ones. But, more than anything, it is a big game for South African rugby. There is a lot of hurt sloshing around the Springbok camp right now, and only a victory will deaden the pain.


  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk