Hodgson's choices unpalatable as ever

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The Independent Online

Halifax has a lot to answer for. In the week when the humble Yorkshire town was maligned for a middle-of-the-night incident in which a Premiership goalkeeper had an eyebrow bitten off, one of its humblest sons endured a different kind of ignominy with England. Charlie Hodgson stumbled and fell to a premature exit from a strained Twickenham performance that only became a win while he was watching from the sidelines.

Hodgson happens to have the nickname "Brow" at his club Sale and the thick line of black hair above the bridge of the fly-half's nose was knitted in even more anguish after this latest dent to his pride. When Ben Cohen's aimless kick was run back by South Africa for their first try, the dashing Jean de Villiers took a path to where Hodgson was waiting to tackle. Hodgson was bounced off, twisted his right knee and, though he managed to make it the couple of metres to the touchline on his own two feet, had to be borne by stretcher to the players' tunnel.

He arrived there at the same time as his team-mates trooping off for half-time and facing a 13-6 deficit. Martin Corry offered a quick consolatory word like an expectant father seeing his wife into the delivery room, but the captain had plenty of other things to worry about.

Out of the match, Hodgson had already been out of luck. He might have expected to receive the quite beautiful piece of line-out ball off the top at the tail from Corry midway through the first half but the scrum-half Peter Richards chose to run it himself.

But can Hodgson do it for England? In the affirmative was his 27 points in this fixture two years ago, a 32-16 win for England. For Sale this season he has been supreme, but Edgeley Park is not like living on the edge in Tests. Andy Robinson hauled him off 51 minutes into last week's defeat by Argentina, a decision derided as "silly" by Hodgson's club head coach, Kingsley Jones.

Yesterday, Hodgson called moves which did not work in a back line short on confidence and flair. That was evident in Cohen, whose indecision was final when the Springboks chipped past him for Akona Ndungane to score three minutes into the second half.

By then Andy Goode had taken Hodgson's place, and got the luck his predecessor was notably lacking. The Leicester No 10 had the ball knocked from his grasp by Pierre Spies as a 48th-minute try beckoned; it squirted handily sideways for Mark Cueto to claim the score.

Goode booted two conversions and a penalty. Hodgson's early miss with the score at 3-3, from 35 metres out on the left, prompted exaggerated "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd to his every move and decision thereafter. Hodgson does not deserve to be a pantomime villain. Still, with a pair of crutches at his side, and muffled up in full tracksuit, beanie hat and gloves to watch the grandstand finish, he had to settle for a place in the stalls.

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