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England, Boks ‘kiss and make up’

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England coach Clive Woodward admitted on Friday that the tension, between the Boks and England, was tangible and that the English and South African players were not particularly comfortable being together in the same room ahead of their crucial Pool C showdown at the Subiaco Oval in Perth next Saturday.

That game will, in all probability, decide who tops Pool C and avoid a hazardous quarter-final meeting with the New Zealand All Blacks.

This tension, according to Woodward, found its basis in recent incidents between the two teams. Although he did not specifically refer to it, he must have had in mind England's record 53-3 victory over the Boks at Twickenham in November last year.

Following that game, in which Bok lock Jannes Labuschagne was red-carded for a late charge on England fly-half Johnny Wilkinson, the British media broadcasted a video-tape revealing a number of unsavoury incidents in which Bok captain Corné Krige had been involved.

The South Africans felt the England team and management had been behind the distribution of the 'evidence' and it left a lot of bad blood between the two sides. Then, on the eve of SA's departure to the 2003 RWC, Krige labelled Martin Johnson "one of the dirtiest captains" in the world – even though he later apologised, saying that it should never have appeared in print.

It was thus with much anticipation that the media followed the first public meeting of the two groups, and in particular the two captains. On the surface the meeting seemed like a damp squib, as the groups exchanged pleasantries and then went on their own merry ways.

"To be fair I don't think that the English and South African players were particularly comfortable being there," Woodward told zurichpremiership.com. "But, I think looking at the broader picture, it was great to meet up with the Georgians, the Uruguayans and the Samoans.

"There was obviously a little bit of tension between the English team and the South African team."

Woodward said he shook hands with Krige and his Bok counterpart Rudolf Straeuli. "You meet with them and have a few polite words. I think it is a good thing. It was probably good because you do get a lot of things blown out of all proportion, especially in the media going into these big games.

"But the bottom line with all these opposition players and coaches is still that rugby has got that ethos that you want to beat each other hugely during the 80 minutes. But I have never met a coach or player in the environment like last night [Thursday] who doesn't want to shake hands and have a chat.

"It was interesting meeting Straeuli and Krige, but that is going to have no bearing on next week. It's a huge game next week. But it did break the ice a little bit and it just proves that rugby does have this fundamental ethos which is excellent, despite the history between the two countries and long may that continue."

But before they get to meet the South Africans on the pitch, England have to take care of some other RWC business – beating Georgia in their opening match at the Subiaco Oval in Perth on Sunday.

Injury worries to Matt Dawson and Iain Balshaw have now all but disappeared and Woodward was able to confirm that his starting team would be unchanged from that announced earlier in the week.

"Matt Dawson trained fully yesterday [Thursday] and Iain Balshaw is ok to train full-on," said the England coach.

"As long as we get no injuries in [Saturday's] final team run, we will be as selected – which I am delighted about. We have got all 30 players training which is very, very good news."


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