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SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: South Africa thought they could bully us, but that was never going to happen

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: South Africa thought they could bully us at Twickenham, but that was never going to happen… no one could intimidate Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio or Jonny Wilkinson

  • South Africa crossed the line during the infamous Twickenham clash in 2002
  • The Springboks thought they could bully England but we had such a tough team 
  • Losing 53-3 to England is not a game you want on your record as a Springbok

South Africa lost the plot at Twickenham in 2002.

Some of the stuff that went on was unacceptable. They didn’t need to, but the Springboks crossed the line.

I said to my players: ‘The only way we can lose is if we lose control and start fighting back.’ We didn’t get involved in the cheap shots from South Africa. The forearm smash from Corne Krige on Matt Dawson was exactly that.

South Africa cross the line during the infamous Twickenham clash in 2002 

It was the same with Jannes Labuschagne’s late hit on Jonny Wilkinson for which he was sent off. I’m sure the South Africans look back on it with regret.

Losing 53-3 to England is not a game you want on your record as a Springbok.

Paddy O’Brien was the referee that day. He showed Labuschagne a red card but I said to him after the game: ‘You’ll be disappointed when you see the video.’ I made a tape of all the key incidents, which I sent to him. To his credit, O’Brien came back and said how sorry he was. He admitted he missed a lot of incidents and should have sent three or four South Africans off. I think he regrets it.

I’ve got a picture on the wall of my office with the final score that day on it. I never thought growing up we’d beat South Africa 53-3 at Twickenham. The Springboks couldn’t live with us. They’d have got beaten even if they’d kept 15 on the pitch because their attitude was just all wrong.

They thought they could bully and intimidate England which was never going to happen because we had such a tough team. No one bullied Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio or Jonny Wilkinson.

Jannes Labuschagne was sent off for a reckless, late tackle on Jonny Wilkinson

Jannes Labuschagne was sent off for a reckless, late tackle on Jonny Wilkinson

There was a lot of off-the-ball stuff going on. It would have been easy to react.

But my mantra at the time was ‘T-Cup’ — thinking correctly under pressure — and that’s what the players did.

What happened in the end showed that if you play with power and pace, no team can live with you even if they go outside the law or try to take matters into their own hands.

South Africa’s approach was all the more disappointing because they had great players who were far better than what they showed that day.

Looking back now, I think we handled it well. We didn’t react and a 53-3 win is still an English record over South Africa and the most points any England team have scored against them.

People will always remember the violence, but the final score tells its own story.

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