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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 14:59 GMT
Don't bet against the 'Boks
South Africa came off the rails badly at Twickenham
South Africa came off the rails badly at Twickenham

A month ago England were looking to lay down a marker and show the rest of the world that they were serious contenders.

After completing their southern hemisphere triple-crown on Saturday with a crushing victory over South Africa, the world has got the message.

England ran up a record score against the sorry Springboks and will take a psychological advantage into their pool match with the 'Boks in next year's World Cup in Australia.

And it will be a vital encounter, with the winners having a relatively easy route through to the final, while the losers must navigate far rockier waters.

However, despite Saturday's thrashing, victory on a hard track in Perth is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Firstly the South Africans are unlikely to be as ill-disciplined as they were against England.

South African coach Rudi Straeuli maintained that his team did nothing wrong during Saturday's battle at 'Fortress Twickenham'.

But several 'Boks could have been sin-binned even after Jannes Labuschagne had been sent off.

Secondly, the Springboks that run out against England in the World Cup will bear little resemblance to the team that England put to the sword on Saturday.

England will need to guard against defeat in Australia
England will need to guard against defeat in Australia
The 'Boks have been hard hit by players leaving to play abroad, but more than half the team, if not more, will be different come the World Cup.

And thirdly England have yet to prove they can take their Twickenham form and produce it away from the imposing west London stadium.

England have won a record 18 consecutive matches at HQ, but their record away from home is far less imposing.

Six Nations defeats to Wales (albeit at Wembley), Scotland, Ireland and France in the past four years are something that cannot be tolerated in this year's championship.

And beating the likes of New Zealand and Australia in autumnal conditions in front of a 75,000 home crowd is a far cry from doing the same on dry pitches in the early Australian summer.

For all that, England achieved something unique with their destruction of the Boks on Saturday - no-one had ever beaten the Tri-Nations giants on three consecutive weekends before.

The wins against New Zealand and Australia were more important for England's development than the romp against South Africa.

The All Blacks are still the benchmark in global rugby, while fighting back from a big deficit to beat the world champions speaks for itself.

Thrashing the 'Boks will not exactly do England any harm, but coach Clive Woodward knows that the stake will be very different next time the two sides meet.

Saturday's match may have been a friendly only in name, but ultimately there was nothing more than pride on the line.

Despite his concern over Springbok tactics on Saturday, Woodward was understandably upbeat after the match.

As the England coach passed journalists anxiously waiting to collar players after the match he cheerfully told them: "Cheer up. It's only a game."

He is unlikely to be quite so cheerful before their World Cup meeting next October.

 NOV 23-24 TESTS
 ENGLAND 53-3 SA
 WALES 17-43 NZ
 IRELAND 16-7 ARG
 FRANCE 35-3 CANADA
 ITALY 3-34 AUSTRALIA
 SCOTLAND V FIJI

See also:

26 Nov 02 | International
25 Nov 02 | International
25 Nov 02 | International
Links to more International stories are at the foot of the page.


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