Frozen in Time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 12:00am

The bookies get it right again - as England, 8-1-on favourites, inflict the biggest hiding South Africa have experienced in their proud rugby union history, a whopping 53-3 scoreline, to complete a sweep of the southern hemisphere's leading trio in successive matches at fortress Twickenham. Winger Ben Cohen (pictured with Matt Dawson in support) runs in one of England's tries as fans embark on another lusty rendition of their favourite song, Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Only once before - in Auckland in 1997, when the All Blacks beat them 55-35, have the Springboks conceded a half-century of points. This setback also surpasses their biggest margin of defeat - 28-0 to New Zealand in Dunedin in 1999.

New Zealand and Australia succumbed to the might of Martin Johnson's charges earlier in the month, but it is the trouncing of the Springboks which gives England a world record of 18 consecutive home Test victories - and further hope that they can go on to claim their first-ever World Cup crown the following year in Australia.

The beleaguered visitors start well. But any chance they have of overturning a poor tour record which has seen them rack up record losses to France and Scotland during their end-of-season northern hemisphere tour ends as early as the 23rd minute when lock forward Jannes Labuschagne is sent off for a palpably late shoulder charge on Jonny Wilkinson long after the England flyhalf clears the ball into touch.

New Zealand referee Paddy O'Brien's decision, however justified it may seem to neutrals in the stadium, draws sharply contrasting responses from the respective coaches.

England's Clive Woodward suggests: 'I'm glad we had the number one referee [in the world] in charge. I'm pleased the referee didn't bottle it.'

However, South Africa's Rudolf Straeuli maintains: 'Labuschagne was pulling out of the tackle.' He adds that at most the second-row forward should be sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes.

Off the ball incidents abound throughout the 80-plus minutes with the Springboks blamed for most of the illegal exchanges. 'It was a brutal Test. There was a lot going on out there,' says Woodward, who adds that he does not expect his players to be taken out by 'cheap shots'.

'I know we are no angels either, but there was too much going on that wasn't acceptable. The self-control of the team was magnificent. Hats off to [captain Martin] Johnson and Phil Vickery. All the key guys kept their control when they could have lost it.'

Straeuli counters: 'We are a physical side and so are they. We've got two guys concussed [halfbacks Bolla Conradie and Andre Pretorius] and one with a dislocated shoulder [replacement forwards CJ van der Linde]. Do you think we concussed ourselves?' Television replays later show that Springbok captain Corne Krige was responsible for Pretorius' concussion.

Krige remains defiant, suggesting the teams' next meeting at the World Cup a year later will have a different outcome. 'I'm not that convinced England can play much better, but we can improve by at least 60 per cent.'