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.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?