Springbok 'fires are already burning' for England Test

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The Independent Online

Corne Krige, suddenly the big bad wolf of international rugby after daring to remind the world that Martin Johnson is not England's answer to Mother Theresa, seems to be enjoying his notoriety.

"For a Springbok, every Test is a life and death affair," pronounced the South African captain, by way of lighting the green-and-gold touch-paper for this weekend's humdinger of a Pool C match between the countries at the Subiaco Oval. "There will be no need for me to stoke the fires. They are already burning."

Crikey. No sign of a bridge over troubled waters there. While Krige went on to emphasise the need for at least a semblance of sanity on Saturday - "We will need some ice in the veins," he admitted during a question-and-answer session at South Africa's Fre- mantle base - it was clear that the 1995 champions had already embarked on a great summoning of the Bokke spirit that filled the competitive souls of their revered predecessors, from Danie Craven and Hennie Muller to Frik du Preez and Francois Pienaar.

Krige's very presence will raise the ante. The 28-year-old flanker from Western Province missed his side's opening victory over Uruguay because of hamstring problems. But he is fit and available for his country's first meeting with England since the 50-point defeat at Twickenham 11 months ago - a match distinguished, in a manner of speaking, by the full array of Springbok dirty tricks, which left Jason Robinson with a perforated eardrum and Jonny Wilkinson with bruises in places he did not know existed. Krige wreaked more than his fair share of havoc that day, and while he later apologised, he did not appear to be wrestling with his conscience yesterday.

It is not the South African way to cry over spilt milk - or in this case, blood.

"Rugby is a contact sport," Krige continued, merrily. "It is contested between the four white lines on the pitch, and that is where it should stay. Afterwards, the teams share a beer and form the friendships that make the game what it is.

"I hope it is a great match this weekend; certainly, everyone in the South African squad has been waiting for it. If I have a job to do, it is not to motivate the players, but to keep them calm."

It would be as well to leave the Gallagher brothers in charge of the wine cellar.

After crowds either side of the 20,000 mark for the South Africa-Uruguay and England-Georgia matches, a full house of 42,922 is guaranteed for this one. The game is the talk of Perth, a city generally consumed by Australian Rules and cricketing matters, and with good reason; the Boks have been building towards the occasion for months, to the extent of printing the names of English players on their tackle-bags. Presumably, the Johnson bag was equipped with two hairy fists, and the Matt Dawson bag fitted with a voicebox so it could talk to the referee.

As usual, England are doing things differently. While the Boks have introduced a sliding scale of financial punishments for those who misbehave on the field, their opponents merely have to mention the word "discipline" to remind players of their responsibilities.

"Self-control is a massive part of our game," said Andy Robinson, the forwards coach. "Everyone understands that. We don't have a fines system because we don't have a problem with our penalty count."

Of course, England are not as law-abiding as all that. They just cheat better than most of their rivals. "You play according to the referee," smirked Robinson.

This weekend's official is Peter Marshall of Australia, and the red-rose hierarchy will study his quirks and foibles in considerable depth - not least because England have never beaten southern hemisphere opposition with Marshall in charge. To this end, they will consult their own resident referee, Steve Lander. "Steve's input is very important to us," said Robinson.

Meanwhile, the third realistic contenders for a place in the knock-out phase, Samoa, have selected a serious team for their opening match with Uruguay tomorrow.

Five British-based players have been named - the full-back Tanner Vili, the centre Terry Fanolua, the scrum-half Steven So'oialo, the lock Opeta Palepoi and the No 8 Semo Sititi, who will lead the side.

They have armed themselves with the heavily tattooed Lome Fa'atau, counted among the quickest wings in world rugby, and Brian Lima, one of the great warhorses of the game, who has shifted from wing to centre.

The South Americans, barely able to crawl off the field after soaking up 80 minutes of Springbok hammer on Saturday, have kept their impressive tight-forward unit in a line-up showing seven changes, two of them positional.

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