Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 20 News List

England about to address challenge from South Africa

AP , LONDON

The last time England faced South Africa at Twickenham, the English were on the climb and the Springboks were on a steep slide.

The result two years ago was a 53-3 thrashing for the South Africans.

Today's game has a new dimension: It's the World Cup holder against the Tri-Nations champion, and it could go either way.

This time England is scrambling to regroup after a troubled year in which eight of the World Cup side retired, two more sustained long-term injuries, coach Clive Woodward quit, and the team lost five games out of six before last weekend's rout of Canada.

During that same period South Africa, under new coach Jake White, recovered to beat New Zealand and Australia at home to win the Tri-Nations in August. The Springboks arrived in Europe hoping to Grand Slam its Six Nations opposition.

But that plan was ruined in Saturday's 17-12 loss to Ireland, which pleased the English.

On a day when New Zealand goes to Wales, Scotland hosts Australia for the second time in three weeks, Six Nations champion France welcomes Argentina, and Ireland hosts the US, the England-South Africa confrontation is the highlight.

Interim England captain Jason Robinson aims to shake off his feud with the English media to win for the second time in a row.

The former rugby league star, who refused to talk face to face with reporters midweek because of repeated stories about his troubled past, scored a hat trick of tries in his first game as captain when England overwhelmed Canada with a 12-try performance last Saturday.

With World Cup player Joe Worsley returning from injury to the loose forwards, England fields its strongest available lineup against the Springboks, who are well balanced even though critics argue there is still something wrong with its makeup.

Winger Ashwin Willemse's broken toe ruled him out and he was replaced by Jean de Villiers. White also wanted to replace Breyton Paulse with the taller Jacque Fourie on the other wing to counter England's kicking tactics.

But the absence of Willemse and Paulse would have meant South Africa taking the field with only one black player -- tighthead prop Eddie Andrews -- so Paulse kept his place and Fourie was on the bench.

"We operate in a uniquely different environment and we have to adapt accordingly," White said. "Because England kick a lot across the field we could have used Fourie's height. He's a 21-year-old and could be our No. 1 winger at the 2007 World Cup.

Although South Africa has lost its last five meetings with England, the Springboks still lead 12-10 overall with one game tied.

By contrast, New Zealand hasn't lost to Wales since 1953, and their last meeting a year ago at the World Cup in Sydney was a thriller, won 53-37.

After dispatching Italy, and mindful of France next week, New Zealand rested captain and center Tana Umaga for the game at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and passed the leadership to flanker Richie McCaw, who was being groomed to skipper the 2007 World Cup All Blacks.

Australia couldn't afford to think so far ahead against Scotland at Hampden Park. After racing to a 28-0 lead over Scotland in their first test two weeks ago, the Wallabies had scored only one more try in 120 minutes of rugby, in a defeat of Scotland and loss to France.

"Everyone is aware of the way we want to play and everyone agrees with the way we want to play," Wallaby coach Eddie Jones said. "We just need to have the courage to follow it through."

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