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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
How do England bounce back?
By Rob Hodgetts

England take on South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday
England will have to weather another South African storm in Pretoria on Saturday

"Lambs to the slaughter" is just one of the phrases that spring to mind when thoughts turn to England's second Test with South Africa on Saturday.

There are plenty of other expressions, too, after a callow, makeshift England side fell foul of a Springbok steamroller last weekend.

The resurgent South Africans are moving through the gears in their World Cup preparations and will be licking their lips at the prospect of dishing out some more punishment in Pretoria.

The prospect of a similar, or worse, result - England lost 58-10 in Bloemfontein - seems a grim reality to most of us amateur observers.

But perhaps the England players will not find it as hard as you might imagine to prepare to tackle the same side of green-shirted giants that spanked them by a record margin just seven days before.

"Rugby players are a hardy bunch," says former Harlequins and Saracens star Tony Diprose, who captained England on one of their darkest days - the 76-0 defeat by Australia on the infamous "tour from hell" in 1998.

Tony Diprose
I have no doubt that all the England players will go into this game thinking they can win

Tony Diprose

"There'll be a bit of gallows humour. Mistakes were made and other players will get into them for that.

"But the idea is that you improve and learn from last week's performance and that's what [coach] Brian Ashton will be expecting.

"I have no doubts that all the England players will go into this game thinking they can win.

"To get to the level they are at - representing your country - you have to have that inner belief that you're better than the opposition.

"These players owe it to themselves. They will have been very disappointed with the last 10 minutes, when they let in four tries, because they are professionals."

Ashton's touring party, like that in 1998, has been shorn of its top stars and weakened by illness and injury, prompting the South African press to label them a group of "part-timers, plumbers and decorators".

But Diprose reckons these jibes will be water off a duck's back and recalled a British Airways advert in the papers in New Zealand in 1998 with a picture of some mud-splattered England players. The headline read, "Thinking of going home?" along with the price of flights back to the UK.

England coach Brian Ashton consoles captain Jason Robinson in Bloemfontein
Coach Ashton and captain Robinson will be hoping for a better display in Pretoria

"You had to laugh. It was very good advertising and I thought it was really funny and that's how you have to deal with it," said Diprose, 34, who toured with the Lions in 1997.

England lost all seven matches on the 1998 trip, including two Tests against New Zealand and one against South Africa in Cape Town.

But for all the criticisms of touring with a weakened side, both commercial and on the playing side, the "tour from hell" spawned World Cup winners such as Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson, Josh Lewsey and Lewis Moody.

"What these tours do is enable you to deal better with adversity and develop the ability to bounce back from disappointment, though you might not appreciate that at the time," said Diprose. "We all learnt a lot.


"If England come back from South Africa with 10 or 15 players who, for the next four or five years, will be good for England because they've been through this and come out the other side, then it becomes a successful tour, as ours did ultimately in 1998."

In the short-term, England need to quell South Africa's rising confidence ahead of the re-match in the World Cup group stages in Paris in September.

But the professional in Diprose does not deal in the same hype as the rest of us.

"I don't know whether these games will have any bearing on the World Cup," he said. "That's a one-off game and whoever wants to go out and grab it will get the result."

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