Montgomery kicks SA to victory
A ruthless South Africa punished England’s ill-discipline with a 15-6 win over the defending champions in the Rugby World Cup final at the Stade de France north of Paris on Saturday.
Fullback Percy Montgomery took his points total for the tournament past the century mark by converting each of his four penalty attempts. Francois Steyn kicked the other three points with a penalty midway through the second half.
Despite holding their own for most of the game, England could not avenge the humiliating 36-0 loss to South Africa in the pool stage barely five weeks ago.
They again showed the forward grit and determined defence that saw them record upset wins over Australia and France in the quarter- and semifinals, but could only notch up two penalties from outside-half Jonny Wilkinson.
“We can’t fault effort and the heart,” said England forward Martin Corry. “It’s a shame that all that spirit counts for nothing. We gave it everything but it didn’t go to plan. We are immensely disappointed and it’s heartbreaking.”
South Africa winger Bryan Habana, who was unable to add to his eight tournament tries, said he was overjoyed with the victory.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “Our president [Thabo Mbeki] is here. It’s been an incredible seven weeks and we really appreciate the support we have received here.”
Montgomery opened the scoring with his first penalty in the seventh minute when England centre Mathew Tait slipped on the greasy pitch and held on when caught in possession directly in front of the posts.
England’s early aerial bombardment paid off when the ball was worked wide after Mark Cueto and Mike Catt combined to strip JP Pietersen of the ball after an Andy Gomarsall up-and-under.
Bryan Habana put in a bone-crunching tackle on Paul Sackey on the right wing but he did not roll away, and Wilkinson nailed a tough penalty from close to the touchline.
Montgomery restored the deficit after Lewis Moody, in an offside position, needlessy aimed a cynical kick at Butch James.
Jason Robinson, in his last game, then produced a fine try-saving tackle on James after the outside-half had burst through to gather his own chip over England’s rush defence.
With both sides seemingly comfortable fielding endless successions of kicks, and physical blanket defences mopping up most darting forwards drives, the game needed a spark from one individual.
Steyn, the second-youngest player to date in a World Cup final, almost provided that with the first decent break of the game, side-stepping three England defenders with a swarm of green jerseys behind him before Wilkinson hauled the centre down.
Pietersen and Os du Randt, the sole survivor of the 1995 World Cup-winning team, both took it on before the ball was swung left, but captain John Smit was halted just 2m short of the line.
Fourie du Preez went close in the ensuing phase, but a careless knock-on gave the advantage away with a try looking imminent and alarm bells ringing in the England camp despite some stirring defence.
But the Boks displayed their set-piece power by turning the scrum after it was set for the third time.
On their put-in, Danie Rossouw drove impressively from the base of the scrum and Victor Matfield took it on. Hands in the ruck by prop Andy Sheridan gifted Montgomery a third penalty and South Africa a 9-3 half-time lead.
The second period started in dramatic fashion, with Tait ducking a high Steyn tackle and streaking 40m towards the line, rounding Montgomery before being brought down by a fantastic covering tackle by Matfield.
The ball was spun wide and found Cueto with 5m to go to the whitewash, but a desperate tackle by Rossouw was ruled to have taken the winger into touch although the video replays did not look convincing.
Wilkinson immediately claimed a consolation penalty after the Bok backs were ruled offside in the build-up.
English ill-discipline, this time by Martin Corry with hands in the ruck, was again punished by a fourth Montgomery penalty after another strong break by Steyn.
The youngster then made amends for a missed long-range penalty with a successful 47m shot at goal after obstruction in the England backs with just less than 20 minutes to go.
South Africa were then content to play the percentage game, clearing their lines effectively and swarming over any English attack in the same manner that saw them progress through the seven-week, 20-nation World Cup unbeaten and deserved winners.—Sapa-AFP