James Lawton: Krige sets Johnson a useful example

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The Independent Online

It is natural that England's rugby union followers are working themselves into patriotic fervour at the dawn of the World Cup. This is a brilliantly organised team of great talent and the highest ambition, and only the churlish and perhaps a few deathlessly recalcitrant Welsh would seriously question their neck-and-neck ranking alongside the resurgent All Blacks.

But we are still talking about sport here, and the the old cry of "my nation, right or wrong" should properly be reserved for war-time situations.

In this context, the shock and horror that greeted the apparently off-guard comment of the South African captain, Corne Krige, that England's Martin Johnson was "one of the dirtiest captains in world rugby" was perhaps a little over- stated.

Though Krige was in charge of a despicable South African performance at Twickenham last November, he did eventually confess to the fact that he and his team had let down both themselves and the game they professed to love. Said Krige, "There will be no scores to settle out there [when South Africa meet England in a group game in Perth]. I have never played again like I did at Twickenham. I have said sorry to those I needed to. Not many of the guys from that day are with us on this trip. We've put a lot of emphasis on being disciplined in training. If anyone steps out of line, they will be dealt with by the team itself as well as the management. We're unrecognisable from the team that lost at Twickenham."

Now whatever the sins Krige accumulated at Twickenham, and as an eye-witness I have to say they were many and appalling, it seems to me that the South African captain has been quite comprehensive in his owning up. The crimes have been recognised and absolution has been sought. This, to put all patriotism aside, hasn't been the habit of England or their captain.

When, a year and a half ago, he was picked to lead England in Paris quite soon after brutally assaulting an opponent, there was there little hint or apology. Johnson is a magnificent rugby player and a mighty force as a captain. But who among honest Englishman could put his hand on heart and say that Krige's aside did not carry more than a little weight?