South Africa head home with pride

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The Independent Online
England 46 South Africa 0

It might sound perverse or even patronising, but it was South Africa who came away with more credit from their farewell match in the Centenary World Cup.

Heavily beaten for the third time in the tournament, they at least looked like a rugby league team and bowed out with a certain amount of pride regained.

"They made me proud," said their coach, Tony Fisher. "I said all along that it was a learning process and they have showed how quickly they can learn."

It is to be hoped that they do not absorb too much specifically from England's performance on Saturday, because it was the inadequacies of the host nation that helped South Africa look such an improved side.

There were times, especially in the first 20 minutes, when they looked as though they were the ones struggling to learn the game. Their fumbling start included the most priceless comic moment of the tournament so far, when Chris Joynt made a break, spotted a flash of white on the wing and passed to the touch judge.

Mind you, the official was at fault as well. Infected by the general malaise, he failed to cut inside and take the pass for what would have been an easy try.

That was unfortunate, but the incident is still an obvious candidate for "What Happened Next?" What did happen next was that England started to score tries with reasonable regularity and built up a respectable winning margin without ever becoming wholly convincing.

The successes were limited to Nick Pinkney, who scored two good tries, one from 80 yards, Daryl Powell, who engineered most of of England's points, and Phil Clarke, who led the side energetically in the absence of Shaun Edwards.

The loss of Edwards the previous night is one of a number of worries England take with them into the semi-final stage. The England captain has had a troubled World Cup, what with his stomach bug, his running battle with the Australian management over their claim that he racially abused John Hopoate at Wembley and now an infected knee that put him in hospital on an intravenous drip on Friday night.

Edwards will not be able to rejoin the squad until Wednesday at the earliest and, although his coach, Phil Larder, was making hopeful noises about him, his chances of playing in a semi-final on Saturday must be in severe doubt.

The other principal problem is Martin Offiah, who came through a fitness test on his thigh and a full training session with flying colours, but looked a shadow of his true self at Headingley. In a match where he should have had the scent of try every time he got the ball, Offiah lacked any sharpness or confidence. All very worrying, especially as another winger, John Bentley, limped out of the game with a hamstring injury.

When he did get space to run into, he was caught by his opposing winger, Guy Coombe, no slouch but hardly the game's most celebrated speed merchant.

Still, as Larder pointed out, England started their Group matches with three objectives - to qualify, to win the Group and to finish with the best defensive record. They achieved all three and, in the process, have got the public behind them to an extent nicely illustrated by a crowd of 14,041 for a match never seriously touted as a contest.

ENGLAND: Cook (Leeds); Bentley (Halifax), Pinkney (Keighley), Mather (Wigan), Offiah (Wigan); Powell (Keighley), Goulding (St Helens); Harrison (Halifax), Cassidy (Wigan), Platt (Auckland Warriors), Haughton (Wigan), Joynt (St Helens), Clarke (Sydney City Roosters, capt). Substitutes: Radlinski (Wigan) for Bentley, 22; Broadbent (Sheffield) for Harrison, 40; Sampson (Castleford) for Platt, 40; Smith (Castleford) for Powell, 63.

SOUTH AFRICA: Van Wyk (Eastern Reds); Koombe (Durban), Fourie (Dewsbury), Boshoff (Dewsbury), Ballot (Bay of Plenty); Johnson (Workington), Alkema (Barea); Watts, Van Deventer (both Dewsbury), Booysen (Dewsbury, capt), Alberts (Pretoria), Williams, Mudgeway (both Durban). Substitutes: Cloete (Barea) for Van Deventer, 4; Visser (Dewsbury) for Williams, 17; Jennings (South Queensland) for Mudgeway, 35; Williams for Booysen, 48; Lubbe (Dewsbury) for Alberts, 62.

Referee: D Manson (Australia).