Stumbling along a new road

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The Independent Online
January 1993 was the last time I had to watch an international at Twickenham. Much has changed since then, not least the expectancy of the supporters, which is patently greater - almost to the point of being unreasonable.

This is, of course, testimony to the success the national side had enjoyed. However, one must not lose perspective. Before the game my heart cried out for a win, hoping for a lacklustre Springbok performance and that the turmoil surrounding England's preparation would not affect them. My head said otherwise, though.

Not being involved allows those doubts, which would ordinarily be dismissed due to positive thinking, to creep in.

This is a new era for England, hence the decision to go into the game without Dean Richards and Brian Moore. Add to this the retirements of Rob Andrew and Dewi Morris and the result was that the backbone of the side at hooker, No 8 and half-back were all in harness for the first time. Injuries, as well as numerous side issues, also hampered the build-up.

Bear this in mind while you consider the task in hand. A new-look side trying to loosen the shackles, weighed down by expectancy and choosing to do so with no less than the world champions - a team who not even the All Blacks with their renowned attacking prowess could break down.

Of course areas need tightening, not least the ease with which we gave up the ball, but you can point to over-eagerness for many of the errors. It would be easy to find only faults from the game but that would be unfortunate.

It is during this period of time that the team most needs support, not when we are winning Grand Slams. What was disappointing was that midway through the second half, when England had clawed their way back to 16- 9 and needed the crowd to get right behind them, they did not seem to be there.

Maybe it is not in our psyche but the sooner that changes the better. The crowd factor should not be underestimated. Ask any Irishman or South African. One need only look to the World Cup final as a case in point, where you could argue that the crowd was all that split the two teams.

Maybe there were few moments of home delight to give the crowd something to cheer about, but these included some jewels. Up front there were the rampaging runs of Ben Clarke and Martin Johnson and behind some quite breathtaking breaks by Jeremy Guscott, proving that he was not reserving that kind of form for those at the Bath Recreation Ground.

However, as a winger I must really reserve my commendations for Chester Williams. Denied a hat-trick by some questionable officiating, he displayed all the skills required of a modern-day winger and more.

Not for him the bludgeoning thrusts of a Jonah Lomu, rather incisive finishing and great awareness in attack and ferret- like skills in defence. Though perhaps not the prettiest of tries, his second best portrayed his intelligence. Taking a wide position for the second phase ball meant that he caught everyone unawares except for the ever-alert Andre Joubert. A perfect grubber, a sweet pick-up and the defence was always going to come off second best.

The dawning of a new age it certainly was not. South Africa end the year on a deserved high and we begin this new one floundering somewhat. Against Western Samoa next month England will be looking for nothing short of the display of total rugby given during this summer's World Cup pool game.

If so, then there will be plenty to cheer about and the Parc de Princes can be entered into with confidence in January. If not, one thing is for sure - by the end of this season we shall find just how much patience our expectant public have.