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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK

England miss the boat

England's confidence slipped against the current world champions

BBC Sports presenter and rugby fanatic, John Inverdale, wonders where England go from here, after falling victim to the opportunistic Sprinboks in Paris.

Well, be honest. At what stage of the game in Paris did you really think that England were going to win?

After the first-half of ping-pong kicking, there was a certain inevitability about the turn of events in the second-half, caused not so much by England's short-comings - though they are manifold in midfield - but by the unquestionable and indomitable spirit of the South Africans.

[ image: Clive Woodward: Visibly upset by England's defeat]
Clive Woodward: Visibly upset by England's defeat
One can never underestimate the importance of rugby football to the Springboks, or indeed the shame of losing.

They played like a side who genuinely believe a repeat of 1995 is more than just a pipe-dream and the likes of Mehrtens and Lomu may well have watched the Paris game in a room in Edinburgh with a certain sense of déjà vu.

But what of England? So uncompromising against Italy and Tonga, fallible against the Fijians and so short on self-belief when it came to the crunch in Paris.

And most important, at this highest-of-high-levels, is the most fundamental question of all.

Search for a match-winner

Who, apart from the goal-kicker, be it Paul Grayson or Jonny Wilkinson, is going to score points for England? Where are the tries coming from?

Our strengths are obvious. Matt Perry is a player of talent, vision and bravery. Dan Luger, when given the ball in space, will terrorise some defences and the big guns up front, Johnson, Back and Dallaglio would get in anyone's side.

[ image: The Boks stole the show after five Jannie de Beer drop-goals]
The Boks stole the show after five Jannie de Beer drop-goals
But who's going to score the tries? Look at the midfield line-up of many sides in the Allied Dunbar Premiership, and you see too many players who don't qualify for England.

And yet with the retirement of Guscott, what options did Clive Woodward have? Very few indeed.

England were far too static in midfield - though how much of that should be laid at the players doors is open to question - and were beaten back by the Springboks 'offensive defence', as American Football pundits might say.

None of the pace of Cullen, the guile of Ntamack, the wit and power of Horan. Watching Argentina and France in Dublin run from deep and at pace to break through lines of defence made you wonder if the whole concept of 'lying flat' isn't flawed _ but that's for another day.

For the moment England have missed another boat and the next one won't be along for another four years.

They were as well prepared as any side could be. In the end they fell short in crucial areas and until they are addressed England are destined to remain forever 'potential winners' instead of the real thing.

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