Rugby World Cup 2003
England see off battling Boks
Scrum's Graham Jenkins at the Subiaco Oval
October 18, 2003
Jonny Wilkinson punished South Africa with the boot in Perth
© Getty Images
England cemented their World Cup favouritism with a hard fought 25-6 triumph over South Africa at the Subiaco Oval in Perth.
In the end it was one second half opportunistic try that proved the key with England flanker Lewis Moody charging down a clearance from South African flyhalf Louis Koen and centre Will Greenwood pounced on the loose ball to notch the vital score and tip the balance towards Clive Woodward's side.
The Springboks provided a true test of England's World Cup credentials and the Six Nations champions came through the examination with flying colours and in doing so will have sent a clear message to their World Cup rivals.
The clash was predictably tight and fierce, we lost four hi-tech shirts to rips and blood stains, with the Springboks claiming a psychological advantage in the opening period having shut England's much touted back division down with some tenacious defending.
If Louis Koen had brought his kicking boots with him the Boks' dominance may have been reflected on the scoreboard and we would be writing a whole new story. But lucky for England he had decided to leave them back in his hotel.
The Bok No.10 showed some great invention but alas missed four penalty attempts and had a drop goal attempt blocked in the opening period which may come back to haunt them. Perhaps those drop goal conversions against Uruguay the other night were not such a good idea?
In contrast, although not his best game out of hand, England's Jonny Wilkinson once again on-song with the boot kicking four penalties, two drop goals and a conversion to keep up his 100% tournament record.
England failed to click into gear, or more to the point the Boks had done their homework and were not giving Woodward's side the time or the space to exploit.
Their defensive efforts gave England plenty of food for thought and showed the Springboks that they still have what it takes to worry the big guns in this competition.
England took the lead with a Wilkinson penalty in the opening minutes but any thoughts of a runaway victory like the one in Twickenham last November were soon scattered.
The Boks pressed in every phase and defended their own line stoutly. Koen attempted to level the scores on the quarter hour but his drop goal attempt was blocked. But they were soon rewarded for their endeavours when Koen levelled the scores before the half hour.
Some sloppy work from Lawrence Dallaglio gave Koen the opportunity to give the Boks the lead with a penalty on halfway but it was a couple of metres too much for the No.10.
The Boks continued to find joy at the re-start and the breakdown and Wilkinson was forced into some uncharacteristic mistakes.
However, with a weapon such as Wilkinson facing the Boks should know better than to give him any sort of chance and he punished their indesretions shortly after with another successful penalty.
Koen's luck luck was clearly not in whenhis next penalty effort hit the upright. And before the half-time break there was still time for him to miss two more easier chances to gain some reward for their dominance.
However he did level the scores just before the break when England were forced into the penalty as the Boks stretched them once more.
England began the second half with increased intent and Wilkinson soon had his third penalty with the Bok forwards infringing in their own 22.
Some end to end rugby then brought the near capacity crowd to its feet with both sides briefly throwing caution to the wind.
There was a brieft flashback to that dark November day with a late hit on Jason Robinson by De Wet Barry but thankfully the game didn't degenerate from the fierce and fair physical battle it was.
Another penalty from England's kicking machine extended their advantage but the Boks responded with more invention and had fullback Jaco van der Westhuysen chosen to pass rather than grubber inside England's 22 the balance may have swung.
South Africa's forwards continued to worry England's pack at the breakdown and it was just as they threatened to take the initiative the only try of the game put England firmly in charge.
Wilkinson converted the try and immediately England looked more assured. Wilkinson slotted a drop goal after the hour to take them beyond two converted scores ahead and Woodward saw fit to ring some changes.
Dan Luger entered the fray to replace Mike Tindall and Jason Leonard stepped in for Trevor Woodman to another cap in his remarkable career.
One final drop goal from Wilkinson sealed the win and left England on course to top Pool C and march into the quarter-finals.
South Africa: 6
Replacements not used:
Replacements not used:
Referee: P. Marshall (Aus)