If Martin Johnson is one of the dirtiest captains in world rugby, as Corne Krige notoriously remarked last week, his accuser is certainly among the most hamstrung. Krige, the aggressive Springbok flanker so burdened with the weight of leadership that his judgement appears to have disappeared down the same hole as his discipline, is out of their opening World Cup match with Uruguay tomorrow at Subiaco Oval after pulling up in training. If Johnson did not permit himself a wry smile at the news, he should get himself a sense of humour.
The two men attended a state function here yesterday evening - they resisted any temptation to trade either insults or punches over the seafood vol-au-vents - and will meet again on the field in eight days, when things will be just a little more lively.
"We had a run-out on Wednesday night and Corne felt a twinge in his hamstring," Rudolf Straeuli, the Bokke coach, said. "But it is not serious. He would have played this weekend had it been a bigger match, and there is no doubt he will be ready for the England game."
Johnson has never been much interested in sporting gossip and he gave the Krige show a wide berth while offering his thoughts on England's immediate prospects.
"You can either get involved with this stuff, or you can get on with what you're here to do," he said. "Do you bother with the slanging match, or do you simply enjoy being in Perth and look forward to the next game? I don't have the enthusiasm for all this. If the Boks want to respond in this way to whatever pressure they're under, fine."
He was equally unimpressed by Wallaby suggestions, articulated by the champions' defensive coach John Muggleton, that the biggest problem facing the hard-wearing English pack had more to do with bus passes than forward passes. Asked whether England's forwards might be too ancient to make it through to the end of a hot-weather tournament, the 33-year-old Lion replied: "We'll see, won't we? If the Australians are right, we'll know by the end of the competition. If they're wrong, well, we'll know that too. We do have a lot of experience, but you might find that comes with getting older."
Along with the other 29 squad members, Johnson has watched all the available tapes of England's first opponents, Georgia, whom they face on Sunday. He seemed genuinely impressed by the footage.
"They play rugby as it should be played," he said. "There is no obvious shortage of pace or skill, no sign of defensive disorganisation, and they are very strong in contact. There is a French influence there - a lot of their players have experience of the game over there - and of course, they are a side with very little to lose. I think this will be a physical contest, which is as it should be. And no, I don't mean dirty. There are too many cameras and too many officials around for people not to get caught if they step out of line. This tournament will be about rugby and nothing else."
Rather like England, the South Africans named something close to a full-strength side for their opening match. Krige's injury means that Joe van Niekerk, probably the most gifted member of a very sharp loose-forward combination, will play on the blind side, with Juan Smith at No 8 and a new cap, the 25-year-old Blue Bulls flanker, Danie Rossouw, in the breakaway role. Joost van der Westhuizen, a World Cup winner in 1995 and now 85 caps into an outstanding career, will lead the team in Krige's stead, and with the likes of Richard Bands and Bakkies Botha up front, it will be surprising if there are more than a couple of changes come the England fixture.
Talking of veterans, the 37-year-old Canadian forward, Al Charron, has recovered from knee trouble - if a total reconstruction of the joint can be described in so glib a fashion - and will play against Wales in Melbourne on Sunday.
"I had surgery in June, after rupturing ligaments in my knee, and I can only be grateful to the advances in medical science," said the grand old man of Canuck rugby. "If the injury had happened two years ago, I don't think I'd have been in a position to come back."
More remarkable, given the timescale, is the presence of Ifereimi Rawaqa in the Fijian side for this weekend's match with France. The Lautoka lock pulled out of the World Cup with back trouble less than a fortnight ago, but has returned to the Fiji camp to claim his place.Reuse content