Nick Townsend: Robinson refuses to walk away - but he will have to

Coach refuses to accept he should go after dire display
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The Independent Online

As Rob Andrew sat in his seat, pondering an uncertain few months ahead for his nation's international rugby, and Andy Robinson continued to protest his faith in England's vanquished players - but mostly in himself - it was the bloodied captain, Martin Corry, who accepted the brutal truth. Three England victories this year from 11 attempts was, the No 8 accepted, "appalling", and he added: "We're not hiding from that stat."

In the ensuing fortnight it is unlikely the England head coach will be able to hide from the inevitable either, despite insisting that yesterday's woeful performance and the preceding weeks' efforts in this autumn series represented a "work in progress". When he claimed: "I need time to reflect. I'm not walking away from this," it was an almost robotic response to a question regarding his future that has now been posed just too many times.

The derision at the final whistle which gradually replaced the almost desperate choruses of "swing low" which had welled up from a capacity 82,000 crowd represented a summary judgement from the faithful long before the end of a contest in which England established a convincing lead, only to cast it aside with careless abandon.

Robinson attempted various types of mitigation. One was his men's "fatigue", which was a new one. Had it been a reality it surely should have been irrelevant against a Springbok side severely depleted in personnel, with many of their best players at home, and in a slough of confidence after their sixth consecutive defeat here last week. Indeed their own head coach Jake White's future employment was very much open for discussion.

This capitulation by the world champions was heaped upon the earlier humiliation of their cricketing counterparts; it was not a good 24 hours in which to be an England follower. With England 10 Test matches from their World Cup defence in France, it was by no means a good day to be associated with England rugby. In the rugby village, who are the idiots now?

After defeats by the All Blacks and Argentina, and a barely merited victory over this opposition last week, the first half reflected England in far more acceptable light. At least up to and including their try, though there had still been cause for Robinson to despair.

Corry burst through and only needed to give the ball inside to Ben Cohen, but his pass was intercepted. Robinson held his hands to his head. The moment epitomised England's failings during an autumn series when their passing and kicking have deteriorated since that first contest against New Zealand.

The incident was forgotten, though, because England scored a try, albeit a highly dubious one, from Mark Cueto, television evidence demonstrating that he had not grounded the ball.

For a team in which Phil Vickery had replaced Andrew Sheringham at loose-head, Lee Mears had come in for George Chuter and Chris Jones for Ben Kay, while Andy Goode retained his place having emerged before half-time last week for the stricken Charlie Hodgson and managed the game adeptly as England recovered from 12-point deficit, surely that good fortune would produce a surge of adrenalin?

It actually encouraged a feisty response from White's men, who had initially looked ill-disciplined and resembled a team hankering more for the return home to the Cape summer than defeat of an old enemy. CJ van der Linde handled a difficult pass superbly and scored a try before half-time which, converted, edged the Boks ahead. England had no answer as this time White's men held their nerve.

The situation required some accurate penalty kicking, but when England needed a Jonny-be-Goode, the Leicester fly-half failed them with two misses in as many minutes.

On only his second start at Twickenham, Goode, something of a last man walking in that position (if we ignore the inexperienced Toby Flood, who replaced him four minutes from the end), otherwise looked solid enough. He produced one splendid first-half tackle, in union with Vickery, on Jean De Villiers which denied the centre a try, and linked play well. His kicking from hand was sound enough, but those two missed penalties with England five points behind only served to remind the Twickenham faithful that Jonny Wilkinson is scheduled to return next year. But will it be in time for the World Cup?

England knew their fate when Andre Pretorius's sequence of dropped goals eased his team towards a deserved triumph. Asked what he had said in the dressing room afterwards, Robinson retorted: "There was nothing to be said. There was lots of silence, lots of disappointed people."

One suspects that it is merely the calm before the storm.

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