Sat, Nov 18, 2006 - Page 19 News List

England and 'Bok coaches wary ahead of showdown

AFP , LONDON

Springbok captain John Smit runs with the ball during a training session at the University of Bath in England on Wednesday. South Africa face England today in the first of two Tests at Twickenham.

PHOTO: AP

Both England coach Andy Robinson and Springbok counterpart Jake White could be forgiven for thinking, as they head in to this weekend's Test match at Twickenham, that, however bad things are for them personally, at least they haven't got the other's job.

Robinson is on the brink of presiding over an England record-breaking run of eight successive defeats and has effectively been given this match and next weekend's second Test against South Africa, with which the world champions' conclude their November program and the 'Boks their tour, to save his job.

White too knows what it is to face calls to quit.

Earlier this year his side lost five Tests in a row, including a 49-0 hammering by Australia in Brisbane, before the pride of South Africa's rugby-mad public was restored with a one-point win over next year's World Cup favorites New Zealand in Rustenburg in September.

South Africa went down to a record 32-15 defeat by Ireland in Dublin in last weekend's tour opener, but by then White had already tried to insure himself against the typical consequences of defeat for a Springbok coach.

With the full agreement of South Africa rugby officials, White has rested several senior players, such as Percy Montgomery and Os du Randt, ahead of next year's World Cup in France while the likes of forwards Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha are injured.

Given their support for that policy, sacking White immediately after this tour would be as damning an indictment of South African rugby administrators as it would their coach.

In his quest to develop the depth he believes is necessary for the Springboks to mount a credible challenge at the World Cup, White has beefed up the team that lost last weekend.

There are 11 changes in all, six personnel and five positional, with one of the most significant seeing the tough-tackling Butch James coming in at flyhalf.

White wants James to target opposing No. 10 Charlie Hodgson, defensively vulnerable during Argentina's 25-18 victory at Twickenham last weekend which condemned England to a third straight home defeat.

White, like Robinson, has often been accused of picking players in the wrong positions. The fact that Bryan Habana is back in his familiar wing position after playing center against Ireland, is fresh ammunition for White's critics.

They include the Blue Bulls provincial union, which on Tuesday called for his resignation.

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