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England 32 South Africa 16
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The Independent Online

England have a huge problem: what on earth are they going to do with Jonny Wilkinson? Their World Cup golden boy, currently hors de combat, is expected to return for the Six Nations' Championship in the new year, but his No 10 jersey may no longer be available after what Charlie Hodgson did to South Africa.

England have a huge problem: what on earth are they going to do with Jonny Wilkinson? Their World Cup golden boy, currently hors de combat, is expected to return for the Six Nations' Championship in the new year, but his No 10 jersey may no longer be available after what Charlie Hodgson did to South Africa.

A year ago tomorrow Wilkinson became the most celebrated outside-half in England's history when he dropped the goal against Australia in Sydney that secured possession of the Webb Ellis Cup. A year can be an eternity in professional rugby, particularly if you are not playing.

Yesterday Hodgson found that the crown was tailor-made. The Sale No 10 made a sensational debut for his country in 2001 when he set a record of scoring 44 points here - but that was against Romania who, bless their hearts, didn't know what day it was. What Hodgson delivered yesterday was the real McCoy, a virtuoso performance on behalf of the world champions against the Tri-Nations champions. He contributed 27 of England's points, going through the card with a try, two conversions, five penalties and a drop goal. England's other try was scored by the wing Mark Cueto, so the scoreline could read "Sale 32", except that would be ignoring the magnificent effort of a pack that comprehensively put the Springboks to flight.

Hodgson, who missed the World Cup while having a knee reconstructed, equalled the point-scoring record for an Englishman against South Africa, 27, which had been jointly held by Wilkinson and Rob Andrew. "This was a massive performance for us,'' said Hodgson, who was winning only his 13th cap. Not surprisingly, he won the man-of-the- match award. They used to present the recipient with a Krugerrand, and Wilkinson has a gold collection. What was surprising is that Hodgson said he felt under pressure to perform, so much so that he was "very nervous".

He could have fooled South Africa. "It was make or break for me,'' Hodgson added. "I proved quite a few people wrong but I have got to keep performing well. My ultimate aim is to win Jonny's place.''

Hodgson was accomplished in virtually everything he did. The previous week, in the facile victory over Canada, he landed only one conversion out of six. This time he kicked seven goals out of seven, and a drop goal. "I didn't change my routine,'' he maintained.

South Africa, who had embarked on this tour with high hopes of a Grand Slam, were once again extremely disappointing. They failed to score a try in the defeat against Ireland in Dublin, and yesterday managed only one, towards the end of a match in which they had been smashed on to the back foot by England's tackling.

They could argue that the conditions were hardly redolent of the climate they had experienced in the southern hemisphere, but the fact is that wherever you looked they overwhelmed by a blanket of white. "Now you know why England are the world champions,'' Jake White, the South African coach, said.

Political interference, or affirmative action, dictated that the wing Breyton Paulse was preferred to Jaque Fourie. The immediate sympathy is with coach White, whose selection was compromised, but there are wider considerations. Goodness only knows how Paulse felt. In the event the 50-cap veteran was replaced because of injury late in the second half by Fourie.

England got off to a reassuring start when they won possession from the kick-off and were rewarded with a penalty. Hodgson made no mistake.

Although Percy Montgomery levelled with a long kick, England swept into a lead which they never looked like relinquishing. From a set-piece just outside the South African 22, Andy Gomarsall worked wonders to suck in Jaco van der Westhuyzen and De Wet Barry before deliv-ering an imperfect pass to his partner Hodgson, who cleverly took it with his right arm, shook off Montgomery's tackle and had the strength and pace to make the line before Paulse could stop him.

It was England's first incursion into the South African 22, and 10 minutes later, on their second visit, they scored again. The creator-in-chief was Josh Lewsey, who brilliantly ran back a wayward kick and on his inside found that man Hodgson. The stand-off was immediately collared by Paulse, and when the ball was recycled, Henry Paul found himself operating in the pivotal position. Way to his right, signalling with his arms above his head, was Cueto. Paul put in a cross kick that was almost inch-perfect. It sailed over the head of Jean de Villiers and Cueto, at full pace, safely collected the ball after he had crossed the South African line.

The tremendous foraging and teamwork of the English forwards were far too much for South Africa to handle: every 50-50 ball was won by the Red Rose army and consequently, as the penalty count inevitably rose in England's favour, Hodgson filled his boots.

Although Montgomery landed a second penalty, it was cancelled out by Hodgson after Schalk Burger had conceded another penalty, and England went into the tunnel with a 20-6 lead. Hodgson added three more penalties and a drop goal which was perfectly set up and perfectly executed. South Africa's only consolation arrived in the 73rd minute when Van der Westhuyzen, who had come off very much second best to Hodgson, made a searing break which was impressively finished by the replacement wing Bryan Habana. In the process our man Habana blotted Lewsey's copy, as the Wasps wing missed the tackle.

It did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the captain, Jason Robinson, who oversaw England's sixth successive victory over the Boks. "After a disappointing 12 months we're back on the scene in a big way,'' Robinson said. "There was a lot of talk about how physical South Africa were going to be, and we were determined not just to match it but beat it. And we didn't disappoint.''

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