England down-and-out in France
October 24, 1999
Jannie de Beer slots one of his five drop goals
© Getty Images
Don't be deceived by the scoreline. This match was no classic, but it was a closely fought contest and only in the final ten minutes did South Africa look forward to the semi-final with any confidence.
They had an astonishing kicking display from fly-half Jannie de Beer to thank for it. He silenced all talk of rival Henry Honiball for the number 10 shirt with a faultless kicking display which earned him a whopping 34 points and earned his country at least one more week in RWC'99.
His five drop goals was a world record - no one previously having slotted more than three in a single match - to which he added five penalties, two conversions and no misses.
It was to De Beer that the Springbok selectors turned to to prevent the victorious 1997 Lions from completing a clean sweep. He was praised back then but he will be canonised after this performance.
For the opening quarter of this match it appeared as though both sides had decided not to wage the war but rather to trust in their respective sharp shooters to do the fighting on their behalf. So it was that Grayson and De Beer traded a total of six penalties in the opening 11 minutes leaving England with a 12-6 advantage.
Given the ferocity of the tackling on both sides it is little wonder that each skipper decided that the easiest route to points was via the posts. Chris Rossouw poleaxed Will Greenwood only to injure himself. Meanwhile, Os du Randt was already making Phil Vickery's life miserable where the buffalo roam, when he targeted his opposite number with his bone crunching tackles in the loose.
In truth the game was a little dull as neither side was willing to chance their arm but preferred to opt for safety first, second and third. When the kicking contest was not directed at the posts, it took the form of an aerial bombardment between the back three in which the only casualities were the civilians in the stands who had to endure it.
Against the run of play, and after Graydson had missed a relatively simple penalty for a 15-6 lead, Joost van der Westhuizen ended the stalemate. Grayson's clearance kick was horribly sliced and Dan Luger allowed Rossouw to feed Pieter Muller inside him. The big centre found his skipper five yards from the England line and the Springbok No.9 showed why he is South Africa's leading try scorer. Despite the tackles of Will Greenwood and Matt Dawson, he wrapped himself around the corner flag but placed the ball in goal for a psychologically important try. Only much later did television replays show he was already in contact with the flag before the ball was grounded.
De Beer's conversion put the Springboks ahead for the first time. The South African fly-half then came close to a score himself and it was only Matt Dawson's vigilance that prevented him from touching down.
Referee Jim Fleming finally blew his whistle for something other than a penalty and with the half-time score standing at 12-16 that semi-final place was still up for grabs.
Grayson had already kicked an early penalty when Jannie de Beer slotted over three excellent drop goals in the space of just 11 minutes so knocking the stuffing out of English resilience.
Grayson kicked another huge penalty from 50 yards and hit the cross bar with another one that was fully five yards further before the fly-half found himself replaced by Jonny Wilkinson. The young substitute's first duty was to kick a tricky penalty from his "wrong" side which he duly fluffed. Woodward might reflect on his timing as England were trailing by seven points going into the last quarter.
Wilkinson was given an easier opportunity minutes later thanks again to Dawson's quick thinking, as the scrum-half tapped a quick penalty and won a second opportunity 20 yards closer to the posts.
Necessity is the mother of invention and also gave birth to some breathless rugby in the final 15 minutes as England searched for the elusive try. Perry, Dallaglio and Hill all showed up well in the running but between them they never quite managed to carve enough space to showcase Luger's pace. Handling errors crept in as the players got tired and desperate. When De Beer dropped his fourth and fifth goals, in the 72nd and 74th minute, England were staring at defeat, and the cause wasn't helped by Martin Corry who threw a forward pass during their best attack of the half.
Richard Hill managed to save Perry's blushes after the fullback was caught near his own line by Montgomery. At the death, to rub salt in England's wounds, De Beer kicked another brace of penalties and the winger Rossouw scored a try from a De Beer (who else?) cross kick to give the Sprinboks a famous 44-21 victory.
For the second time in two days a Northern Hemisphere side failed to un-pick a Southern Hemisphere lock. If England are unable to muscle their way to the opposition's line they simply do not possess the nouse at this level to find their way past a determined defence. They would give their right arm for a Mehrtens or Larkham and, if they are patient, that's what Jonny Wilkinson might become.
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