South Africa consign England to second class
England's unwelcome status as second-class citizens of world rugby was cruelly underlined by an emphatic four-try defeat by the Springboks that could have been far more severe. The loss of their most positive back Mike Catt with cuts and concussion, which rule him out of next Saturday's game against New Zealand, compounded England's woes, once again highlighting the dearth of England qualified fly-halves in domestic rugby. The palpable gloom that shrouded the England team after they had been comprehensively outclassed will be difficult to shift as they prepare for what must be an exercise in damage limitation against the All Blacks. Apart from brave and committed defending, England had very little to offer against the tide of green and gold shirts that all but swept the hosts away in an intimidating second half.
It was England's biggest home defeat in points conceded and their fifth successive game without a win, their worst sequence since 1984. Fortress Twickenham has lost the aura it built up during the early nineties; this year England have won just one home game against Wales. Clearly the habit of losing is as easy to acquire as it is difficult to reverse.
As Clive Woodward, the England coach, pointed out, he has only a limited pull of Test-standard players from which to pick a team capable of taking on the best sides in the world. Nevertheless, Woodward has not always made the best use of those players. For instance, Tim Rodber, a genuine big match player, ought to have been selected a week ago for the Springboks game instead of being required to play in last Tuesday's `A' match against New Zealand in which he got concussion. What a waste of resources.
"We ran out of legs in the second half" admitted Woodward. "I was trying to get fresh people on but everything seemed to go against us, and we lost a bit of composure. The penalty count (12 against) was horrendous - which really annoyed me because I thought our forwards went pretty well. The consequences of giving away penalties - loss of field position which led to South African scores - are there for the players to see on the video."
Apart from Rodber, England desperately missed Martin Johnson, whose one-match ban for punching deprived the team of a Lion who understands how to put Springboks on the back foot. It is inconceivable that South Africa's Mark Andrews would have given such a towering line-out performance had Johnson been there. As it was, Danny Grewcock and Garath Archer, who were both disadvantaged by Richard Cockerill's put throw-in, did their most effective work in the rucks and mauls as the Boks rolled forward. Woodward, force majeure, will have to pick the Northampton fly-half Paul Grayson for the New Zealand game while Bath's Richard Butland is likely to be a bench replacement. Neither man has played more than a handful of competitive games for his club this season though both to their credit have looked fresh and committed in their representative appearances. Grayson had precious little ball to work with after he came on as substitute for the second half. Elsewhere England have hard choices to make if they hope to give their side street cred. So far, Adedayo Adebayo has been the only wing to establish a consistent physical presence at this level, yet the Bath player was inexplicably dropped for the South Africa game, another decision Woodward has not adequately justified. If Phil de Glanville. who was missing with a twisted ankle, proves his fitness, the Bath centre should be recalled to take his place alongside Will Greenwood.
It promises to be a close call at No 8 between Richard Hill and Chris Sheasby, a substitute for the last 25 minutes whose ability to get across the gain line could be invaluable next Saturday. Hill has been put in an invidious position since losing his No 7 shirt to Neil Back who was outstanding in attack and defence, proving definitively he is a Test open-side of rare quality. Lawrence Dallaglio also enhanced his reputation with a formidable work rate.
Woodward made a number of pertinent points about the self-defeating structure of English competitions which nowadays foster Celtic and overseas talent to the detriment of the home grown product. Unless more England qualified players develop their experience by participating in the European Cup, the Rugby Football Union will face an uphill struggle to put together an England team good enough to complete in the First Division of Test rugby.
The Premiership clubs want to expand the top division from 12 to 14 clubs which would increase the aggregate of Englishmen performing at the top level, yet the uneven quality of the competition, which has produced too many one-sided games, raises questions about its dubious value to England. As every Sky TV subscriber knows, the South Hemisphere Super 12's tournament is light years ahead of anything Europe has to offer in terms of pace, power and international credibility.
For the moment though, England must put their long-term anxieties about player development to one side and focus with every ounce of self belief on the searching examination they face from the All Blacks. Last week John Hart, the New Zealand coach, continued to admonish England for their "disrespectful" attitude to the haka. Within the next few days England will have to dig deep into their own wounded psyche to discover the means to stop the next haka gliding inexorably into an embarrassing 80 minute rout.
Scorers: England: Try: Green stock. Pens: Catt (2). South Africa: Tries: Garvey, Sny man, Andrews, Swanepoel. Convs: Honiball (2), Montgomery. Pen: Honiball.