Rugby World Cup 2007
Springboks power past England
September 14, 2007
JP Pietersen dives in to score one of three South African tries
© Getty Images
South Africa crushed England 36-0 in their Rugby World Cup Pool A clash at the Stade de France in Paris. England's deficiencies were ruthlessly exposed by South Africa at the Stade de France, the Springboks condemning the reigning champions to a record World Cup defeat.
The Webb Ellis Trophy holders were swept aside as South Africa took charge through first-half tries from flanker Juan Smith and wing JP Pietersen. Pietersen added his second try after the break, while full-back Percy Montgomery added 18 points from the boot and centre Francois Steyn also landed a penalty.
In World Cup terms, it eclipsed England's previous record loss - 44-21 against South Africa - in the same stadium eight years ago. It means England must beat Samoa in Nantes tomorrow week to have any realistic chance of reaching the quarter-finals, where Australia will probably await them.
England's defeat was the first time they had failed to trouble the scorers in a Test match since 1998, when they lost 18-0 against South Africa in Cape Town. The reigning world champions endured a difficult week, losing skipper Phil Vickery to a two-match ban, while fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson and Olly Barkley missed out through injuries.
Their absences meant former Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell and 35-year-old Mike Catt taking on huge responsibility as England's principal midfield backs. Catt was expected to wear England's number 10 shirt for the first time since a Grand Slam-wrecking Five Nations defeat against Wales at Wembley more than eight years ago.
Farrell, meanwhile, went into battle as first-choice goalkicker, with Leicester forward Martin Corry replacing Vickery as captain for an eagerly-awaited Pool A showdown. Elsewhere, Jason Robinson moved from wing to full-back instead of Mark Cueto, while South Africa-born prop Matt Stevens replaced Vickery.
The Springboks were without suspended flanker Schalk Burger, meaning a call-up for Wickus van Heerden, and Francois Steyn took over from Jean de Villiers (ruptured bicep) in midfield.
England's last World Cup defeat came against South Africa in the same stadium eight years ago, and they went into battle as rank outsiders. Farrell's left boot swung the game into action, but South Africa made the early in-roads and took just six minutes to ease in front.
Wing JP Pietersen evaded England scrum-half Shaun Perry's tackle, and although support runner Fourie du Preez was ankle-tapped by Robinson, flanker Juan Smith supported superbly to claim a quality try. Full-back Percy Montgomery, who equalled Joost van der Westhuizen's South Africa cap record of 89, slotted the conversion for a 7-0 lead, sounding immediate alarm bells.
England appeared off the pace, and Steyn compounded their woes by booting a 45-metre penalty after 10 minutes that left England already facing a mountain of Himalayan proportions. It was a nightmare start for the world champions, whose worst fears had already been confirmed by a Springboks side hell-bent on smashing them beyond repair.
England's first scoring chance came when Catt rifled a 14th minute drop-goal attempt wide, and there was already a sense of desperation in the ranks.
As against the USA in Lens last Saturday, England had created little, lacking imagnination that meant South Africa were simply able to pick up the pieces and continue dominating. England, to their credit, settled admirably after such a dismal start, but they should have fallen further behind on 22 minutes.
Springboks centre Jaque Fourie chased a speculative kick deep into England territory, but his selfishness cost South Africa a try. Fourie tried to go it alone, despite having try machine Bryan Habana unmarked outside him, and his knock-on in sight of the line allowed England a reprieve.
It already looked like a finger in the dam exercise for England though, despite a brilliant Robinson break that lifted spirits among a sizeable contingent of travelling support. England's kicking game proved way below par as they lost ground to South Africa's prodigious touchfinders, and most of the opening period was spent inside the red rose half.
But despite dominating territorially, South Africa could not expand on their 10-point advantage, thwarted by spirited English defence and their own lack of composure in attack. Montgomery though, slotted an angled penalty four minutes before the break, hoisting South Africa 13-0 ahead.
And worse was to come for England when Springboks scrum-half Fourie du Preez blasted through their defence to set up a try for wing J P Pietersen that Montgomery improved. There could be no conceivable way back for England, whose head coach Brian Ashton made a interval switch by replacing ineffective scrum-half Shaun Perry with Andy Gomarsall.
Montgomery increased South Africa's lead through a 46th-minute penalty, and England continued to struggle. South Africa, effectively knowing the game was won, were content to play a territory game, pinning England back and looking to take their chances.
Montgomery then completed his penalty hat-trick, meaning England were on course for their heaviest World Cup defeat at 26-0 adrift, eclipsing the 44-21 loss to South Africa at Stade de France in 1999. Ashton continued to make changes, sending on flanker Lewis Moody for Rees, while George Chuter took over from Mark Regan.
England though, were a beaten and battered side heading into tomorrow week's encounter against Samoa in Nantes. And it got worse, with Robinson adding to England's injury woes when he pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring problem.
As Robinson limped off to a standing ovation, it could well prove to be the end of his illustrious Test career. He will retire from England duty at the end of this World Cup campaign - a Barbarians appearance is pencilled in against South Africa at Twickenham on December 1 - and it was such a sad way to exit.
England pressed for a consolation score entering the final quarter, but Pietersen claimed his second try - converted by Montgomery, who then added a late penalty - and the world champions could not wait for French referee Joel Jutge's final whistle.
South Africa (20) 36
England: Robinson, Lewsey, Noon, Farrell, Sackey, Catt, Perry, Sheridan, Regan, Stevens, Shaw, Kay, Corry, Rees, Easter.
Replacements: Chuter, Freshwater, Borthwick, Moody, Gomarsall, Richards, Tait.
South Africa: Montgomery, Pietersen, Fourie, Steyn, Habana, James, du Preez, du Randt, Smit, B. Botha, B. Botha, Matfield,
Replacements: du Plessis, van der Linde, Muller, Skinstad, Pienaar, Pretorius, Olivier.
Referee: J Jutge (France)