Sun, Sep 16, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Record defeat leaves England reeling

BARNSTORMING `BOKS The world champions became the first team in this year's Rugby World Cup to fail to register a point as South Africa earned an easy victory

AFP , PARIS

England's Josh Lewsey, left, tries to stop South Africa's Fourie du Preez as he passes the ball during their match on Friday at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris.

PHOTO: AFP

Reigning champions England were left contemplating the prospect of failing to reach the knockout stages of this year's World Cup after a record-breaking 36-0 defeat against South Africa at the Stade de France.

England's worst World Cup loss left them having to beat Samoa in Nantes next weekend to have any realistic chance of qualifying from Pool A for the last eight and so avoid becoming the first Webb Ellis trophy-holders to be denied a quarter-final spot.

And even if they do get through, it is hard to see how England would beat likely opponents Australia on this form.

England, for all the talk of how they would raise their game following a mediocre 28-10 opening win against minnows the US, were brushed aside by the Springboks and at half-time were a beaten side at 20-0 behind.

South Africa, quicker to the break-down despite missing suspended back-row Schalk Burger and demonstrating a confidence in open play England could only dream of, seized the initiative with first-half tries from flanker Juan Smith and wing JP Pietersen, who later crossed again.

Full-back Percy Montgomery kicked 18 points in all with Francois Steyn landing a penalty as South Africa enjoyed a fourth straight win over England.

"[We're) probably standing still to be honest," losing coach Brian Ashton said after Friday's one-sided encounter. "We had a go at the guys, which was fully justified too."

Martin Corry, leading England in place of suspended captain Phil Vickery, added: "It's a bit of a shell-shock. But we're not going to self-destruct."

Although England were better in the second half, the inability to finish moves -- a longstanding problem during their run of poor results since winning the World Cup -- was often evident.

England's defeat surpassed their previous worst World Cup loss, a 44-21 Stade de France reverse against South Africa in 1999.

This result also meant they became the first side at this year's edition to be kept scoreless in a match -- even Japan managed three points while conceding 91 against Australia.

Not since 1998, when beaten 18-0 by South Africa in Cape Town, had England ended a Test with a zero on the scoreboard.

If all that weren't bad enough, England saw Jason Robinson -- their best player on Friday -- hobble off with a hamstring problem on the hour mark before center Jamie Noon was carried off on a stretcher late on.

Cruelly, Robinson's injury came when the full-back, was initiating a rare attack.

The 33-year-old, who scored England's lone try of the 2003 World Cup final, had previously said he would retire from all rugby after this tournament.

If this was his last game, it was a tough way for Robinson to bow out.

England had lost fly-half Olly Barkley in the lead-up with a hip injury after Jonny Wilkinson, the hero of the 2003 campaign but yet to play in this event, remained sidelined with an ankle problem.

In their absence the "chop and change" duo of Mike Catt and Andy Farrell did little damage to the Springbok defense while so dominant was South Africa scrum-half Fourie du Preez that England counterpart Shaun Perry was replaced by Andy Gomarsall at half-time.

"If you lose one fly-half and then another and select Andy Farrell who has little or no experience in the role then you are going to struggle," Springbok coach Jake White insisted.

Perry summed up England's display when, after his pack had impressively won a scrum against the head, he kicked the ball directly into touch.

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