Captain Clarke inspires youngsters
June 14, 2000
England produced a high-octane performance on the High Veldt to launch their five-match South Africa tour in stylish fashion.
New head coach Andy Robinson saw England score seven tries as a side containing seven full internationals comfortably kept the useful Leopards at bay.
Captain Ben Clarke, a last-minute addition to the squad as injury cover for Leicester forwards Neil Back and Martin Corry, delivered an inspired man-of-the-match display. Bath forward Clarke, now 32, scored two of England's touchdowns and could easily have secured a place in England's 22 for the first Test against South Africa in Pretoria next Saturday.
While Clarke led from the front, an abundance of possession allowed England's backs to enjoy the hard surface. Crisp passing and incisive running enabled wing Dan Luger to emulate Clarke by crossing twice, and there were also touchdowns for impressive centres Leon Lloyd and Ben Johnston.
Second-half substitute Josh Lewsey completed the scoring through an injury-time effort and full-back Tim Stimpson's 17 points from the boot ensured England clocked up a half-century.
England manager Clive Woodward is due to announce the Test team tomorrow and he will have been encouraged by the form of both Clarke and Luger in particular.
There were also encouraging contributions from young Bath lock Steve Borthwick, who bounced back well from a 10-minute spell in the sin-bin, while Bristol second-row forward Andrew Sheridan made some trademark powerful bursts during his second-half stint.
The Leopards lost all 13 of their Currie Cup games last season but gave England some awkward moments, notably in the third quarter when the tourists' solitary points came via a Stimpson penalty. But the home side, despite being roared on by a partisan 7,000 crowd, managed only one try _ captain Basil de Coning the recipient _ and fly-half Roland de Marigny slotted 17 points through five penalties and a conversion.
England's combination of youth and experience blended well under the Olen Park floodlights, the players responding to Clarke's magnificent leadership.
After de Marigny and Stimpson exchanged early penalties, Lloyd scored after a 20-metre burst through a gap.
Thirteen minutes before the break Clarke got in on the act but he required assistance from the video referee, an innovation for this season's Super 12 tournament. Match official Carl Spannenberg waited well over a minute before the decision was relayed to him that Clarke had powered over under a pile of bodies.
Luger, England's top try-scorer in the World Cup last autumn, looked mean and hungry on his first representative appearance since that competition seven months ago. The Saracens flier, laid low by a serious groin injury, ran powerfully for England's third touchdown before Johnston added another before the break.
The Leopards competed well during a lively second half but England's defence was well organised and when their hosts finally ran out of steam the tourists finished with a flourish.
Clarke, Luger and Lewsey rounded off a thoroughly satisfying evening's work, but England know the serious business of tackling South Africa is now just four days away.