June International Tours

Preview: South Africa v England, second test


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On Saturday, June 2, two teams will play a game of rugby against each other at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. The one will represent South Africa, the other will be in the colours of England.

The game will carry with it “international” status, or as it is commonly referred to – a test match.

Considering that England arrived without 60-odd of their top players and another seven have since been ruled out of the tour through injury or illness and considering the disarray in which the English team finds itself, we must ask if we can still call this a test match?

Or is it just simply a mismatch?

Browsing through the dictionary, to find an accurate description for the words “test” and “mismatch”, certainly gives one an indication of what this game should be called.

For the record, this is how the dictionary defines these two thoughts:

* test:
1. the means by which the presence, quality, or genuineness of anything is determined; a means of trial.
2. the trial of the quality of something: to put to the test.

* mismatch:
1. to match unsuitably or inaccurately.
2. a bad or unsatisfactory match.

Brian Ashton, the England coach, and his captain Jason Robinson have done their level best to pass this team off as the genuine article.

However, considering that at the time of writing this article, the England team had not yet been confirmed – as a result of the devastation caused by the stomach virus that has ruled out several players and a couple of other injury concerns – it is tough to take the England challenge serious.

One English scribe called this team a “motley crew of part-timers, plumbers and decorators” … and that was before last week’s record 58-10 hammering they received from the Springboks in Bloemfontein.

They have since been forced to call up four new players – with Saracens back Dan Scarbrough and Bath prop Matt Stevens having joined the squad last week, while uncapped London Irish wing Topsy Ojo and Bath fullback Nick Abendanon having joined the squad on Thursday.

Even for the most impartial English observer, the picture looks very bleak indeed.

Yet Robinson, who is one of the few truly world class players in this England side, gave a rousing rally cry this week when he fronted up to the media, creating the impression that they truly believe they can still turn this into a genuine test.

“Saturday can’t come quickly enough to be honest, as we know we are better than last Saturday,” Robinson said of the 48-point defeat they suffered in Bloemfontein.

However, even he admitted that Saturday will show if they are real contenders … or just pretenders.

“We truly believe we can turn things around, but at the end of the day we will see what happens on Saturday as the proof is in the pudding,” Robinson said.

However, you need less than one hand to count the number of players from this English team that will take part in the World Cup in France later this year, so for the majority of Ashton’s troupe it is a final chance to say “look at me, I’m worth it”.

The Springboks have gone about their business as if they are indeed facing a world class England side.

They have promised a more compelling performance than the counter-attacking display they put up last week.

Considering that four of the Boks’ seven tries were scored in the last 10 minutes of the game in Bloemfontein and another two were scored in a three-minute blitzkrieg midway through the first half, it is easy to understand why they say they can do better.

They know they need to produce a more structured performance, because they will not be afforded that many opportunities against Australia and New Zealand in the Tri-Nations tournament that gets underway later this month.

The real concern for the Springboks, and they said as much this week, is that their set pieces were simply not up to sta

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