Krige left to ponder blood, sweat and fears

Victory was not sublime, defeat wasn't humiliating, but a vital clash ran to form, says Hugh Godwin
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The Independent Online

Poor Corne Krige, mournfully munching his cornflakes this morning. The Springbok captain has only a quarter-final against the All Blacks to look forward to now, and if anything South Africans detest New Zealanders twice as much as they do the English. Krige's men spilt blood in Perth, and earned a measure of respect in the process, but the sudden-death stage looms like a swab of sulphuric acid to be dabbed on the open wounds.

When the last of the claret was rinsed from Richard Bands' mouth it was not only the South African prop's teeth-count that came up short. "We want to thank the people back home," Krige said, as almost his first post-match utterance. "We didn't let them down." It was true that the ifs and buts of Louis Koen's missed kicks were much more palatable than the biffs and butts of the previous collision between these sides, a 50-point hammering by England last November. But it is a poor South African vintage that can regard a 19-point beating as some kind of success.

Koen found most ways of failing to find the target, and in 40 unhappy minutes in the first half laid waste to a reputation as his country's most reliable marksman. So much, too, for the supposed security offered by his pairing at half-back with his provincial colleague, Joost van der Westhuizen. Almost doubled over to take a pass from Van der Westhuizen, Koen looked like a boxer winded by a low blow. Lewis Moody's charge-down was the knockout punch, and Will Greenwood counted the Bok fly-half out; Koen was replaced six minutes later, a broken man.

"We showed we can compete against anybody," Krige said, and up front his judgement was accurate. Bands and the hooker, Danie Coetzee, saw stars in the Western Australian sky - both had a spell in the blood-bin, and Coetzee eventually went off with an icepack jammed to his forehead - but together with the 33-year-old Test novice, Christo Bezuidenhout, they gave England plenty to think about at scrum time. Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha permitted Ben Kay only the occasional joy at the line-out; Joe van Niekerk and Juan Smith gave Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio a lesson in broken-play running.

Behind the pack, it was a different story. Koen punted high and low, in an attempt to unsettle England, and it worked to a degree. But Gloucester fans used to the sight of Thinus Delport's thrusting breaks these last couple of years must have been confused. For half an hour you had to check with the official team line-ups to remind yourself that Delport was indeed on the field.

The late Dr Danie Craven, godfather to South African rugby in its pomp, observed that the 1974 Lions were victorious in the Republic by using their backs mainly to return the ball to the forwards. It was the way the men in green went yesterday, albeit with a certain inevitability given England's iron defence, and it gave the Boks barely a sniff of the English goal-line.

What, then, of the reaction back home, so obviously important to Krige? The advertising blurb in South Africa has been churning out the message "our blood is green". Orange, more like, with the vast majority of the match-day 22 being Dutch-speakers. Almost certainly, South Africa's black population was more concerned with the score from Elland Road than the one from the Subiaco Oval. Then again, our own dear Rugby Football Union recently published a survey admitting that rugby in England is perceived as a "white, middle-class sport".

So Middle England's equivalent in South Africa can chuck their steaks on the braai and munch on the biltong with just a little more gusto than before. At Twickenham last year, Krige's behaviour besmirched the green No 6 jersey that was, when worn by Nelson Mandela in 1995, for a while the most famous in world sport, up there with Pele's perfect 10.

This time around, Krige wound up proceedings by offering a hand and a smile to his counterpart, Martin Johnson. The best that could be said about the Boks was that they did not offer England the match on a plate.