England halt losing streak

England fought back from 6-18 down to beat South Africa 23-21 at Twickenham on Saturday, bringing to an end the worst run of defeats for over thirty years, but increasing the clouds above Jake White’s office.

The prologue of this fascinating encounter tells of two coaches feeling the strains and pressures of underachieving at the top end of professional sport. But the game itself was a stark contrast as both sides looked to attack with intent and play a brand of rugby not befitting of their relative situations.

For England there was the looming tag of “worst ever England team” as they stared down the barrel of a record eighth straight defeat. They almost met that bullet head on but for a rousing display in the final twenty minutes where they turned an eight point deficit into a two point victory.

The Springboks were left in tatters last week after Ireland’s historic performance in Dublin, not that you would have even recognised some of those players this week such was the transformation. The defence went from virtually non-existent last week to virtually perfect this week, led by Jean de Villiers who tackled England to a standstill at times.

For all but one passage of the game it looked as if South Africa would repel anything the English threw at them, that was until Phil Vickery squeezed over after and his fellow forwards delivered an intense battering of the Springboks tight defence for fourteen phases.

England’s first try only came about due to a sheer weight of numbers, with Jean de Villiers kicking his heels in the sin bin. Even then Butch James did his best to prevent it with a thunderous hit on Peter Richards, and Andy Goode did his best to butcher it as he dropped the ball backwards diving for the line.

Butch James’s reputation revolves around his huge hits and physical presence in defence, a rare commodity for a fly-half these days. However it was his deft touches, astute kicking and clever support play that he will be remembered for today. Although there was a healthy smattering of bone-crunching hits that rocked England players to their core throughout the sixty minutes he was on for.

James’s replacement Pretorius kicked well to his credit but it ensured South Africa gradually slipped into a defensive mind set, not the smartest thing to do against an England team with nothing to lose.

Sensing the shift Robinson made a triple substitution, maybe the best thing he has done in the last three weeks and it just may save his job. That is if his fate has not already been decided.

It was the injection of life that Chris Jones, Lewis Moody and Lee Mears injected into the game that sparked England into life. Moody showed his usual disregard for his own body and wellbeing as he flung himself at anything and everything, Jones offered an extra dimension in the loose and Mears was tireless in attack and defence.

So to the rugby, and what rugby it was at times, epitomised by two stunning tries from the Springboks. England played their part as well albeit through a more traditional approach of forward muscle and power but boy was it effective.

England took the lead as early as the opening minute when Charlie Hodgson, booed off last week and stretchered off this week, slotted a superb touchline penalty. Corry, under pressure and seeking to inspire his troops, then gifted South Africa three points back for a late and dangerous tackle on Butch James, an offence he was extremely lucky not to be sin-binned for.

Having retaken the lead again through another superb Hodgson penalty England could only stand in awe as Francois Steyn sent over a monstrous fifty-metre drop-goal. Steyn, the youngest Springbok in seventy-three years has already earned a reputation for his ability with the boot, so it was somewhat of a mystery that Ben Cohen kicked the ball straight down his throat.

Then came one of the those defining moments that seem

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