Boks give champions England stern lesson

Heads bowed, hands on hips, humiliation complete.

And as captain Martin Corry and his wheezing pack and Mike Catt and his sluggish three-quarters trudged disconsolately from the Stade de France that open-top bus ride around London, those celebrations at Trafalgar Square, those MBEs and OBEs and the knighthood for Clive Woodward seemed the most distant of memories.

England were not so much demolished 36-0 by South Africa in the World Cup group match as clinically dissected. This was not so much a bulletin on the state of health of English rugby as a sporting autopsy.

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The biggest defeat in England’s World Cup history. The first time they had failed to score a point in nine years.

The sides were that far apart.

Where South Africa displayed pace and creativity and a willingness to embrace risk, England were ponderous and static with the notable exception of Jason Robinson, whose feet still twinkle even at the age of 33 and who shed blood and much sweat in the cause.

Until, that is, he was helped from the field before the hour mark, clutching a hamstring after breaking down in mid flight with the Springbok try line apparently gaping.

And in that moment the darkness which currently engulfs the white shirt with the red rose was summed up perfectly.

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England collectively were so far removed from the days of Martin Johnson and Co that it was almost cruel of the stadium director to keep cutting to shots on the big screen of the injured Jonny Wilkinson sitting with the England party in the stand, a symbol of a different age when England were masters of all they surveyed.

They were masters only of mayhem when the Springboks crossed the England line after just six minutes.

As for South Africa, for whom Pietersen added a third try, they will certainly march on to face either Australia or Wales in the quarter-finals and with men as brilliantly talented as Brian Habana in their ranks they could yet go all the way.