CORNE KRIGE admitted he deliberately set out to injure England players during South Africa’s 53-3 record mauling at Twickenham in 2002.
Five minutes of madness (link to article here; ‘Five minutes of madness’)
In an exclusive extract from his autobiography The Right Place at the Wrong Time, former Springbok captain Corne Krige talked in 2008 in detail about the day ” I wish had never happened”.
On Saturday 23 of November 2002 South Africa played against England at Twickenham in a game that became famous more for the off-the-ball action than England’s 53-3 victory. In his book Krige revelas his side of the story.
England had won the previous three matches between our two countries at Twickenham, yet, in the first fifteen minutes, it was a tightly fought contest.
But after twenty-three minutes, with England leading 8-0, New Zealand referee Paddy O’Brien waved the red card at our lock Jannes Labuschagne for a late tackle on England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson.
At the time, even our critics suggested it was a harsh punishment for the offence. However, only moments before, O’Brien had given a general warning to both teams to cut out the niggling that had been there from the start.
I have to say that I always had huge respect for Paddy O’Brien during his time as an international referee. I also enjoyed him as a person, as he wasn’t one of those big-headed referees you come across in the game.
Paddy was always humble – a fantastic, nice guy. But, having said that, I do think he made a big mistake to give a red card to Jannes.
There may have been some malicious intent in Jannes’s tackle, but it did not warrant a red card. A yellow one, fine, but not red. Jannes’s challenge was late, but I’ve seen far worse tackles go unpunished.
See the red card incident here
Now that we’re on the subject, I want to stand up and say definitively that I personally got it horribly wrong at Twickenham that day.
Over two years later, Paddy O’Brien wrote in a South African newspaper that, when he saw a tape of the game some time afterwards, he was appalled at what had gone on behind his back.
“I should have sent off five of them,” was his comment. And I have to say that he was right. And that I should have been one of those sent off.
To this day, I still struggle to understand what went on inside my mind that day at Twickenham. When people ask me to describe my feelings and emotions during the game, I think back and recall all sorts of things.
What happened came from a combination of spirit and the heightened sense of competition. Then there was the obvious desire not to lose, and refusing to accept defeat graciously.
And there was the anger and resentment I felt towards England’s arrogance. After all, we had lost in Marseille and Edinburgh and nothing like this had happened there.
But then we hadn’t perceived our opponents to be arrogant, as if they were trying to rub our noses in defeat. France and Scotland had enjoyed beating us, as one would expect.
But they did not exhibit the sneering superiority of the England team as they put us to the sword at Twickenham.
In fact, England was the team I disliked playing against the most, for they were always full of it. I didn’t particularly dislike playing any other team, like New Zealand, Australia or Ireland.
But England was different. Because of their supercilious attitude, they were never good opponents.
Make no mistake, I’m not trying to make excuses for my actions in that match. I accept my full share of the blame, as well as responsibility for what the Springboks did on the field that day.
I had lost at Twickenham before, and knew what it was like.
But then Paddy O’Brien stunned everyone on the field and the crowd of 70 000 spectators by red-carding Jannes Labuschagne.
From then on, we were on the back foot. Playing with only seven men against their forward pack was a nightmare. That imbalance in strength, combined with England’s attitude, motivated me to be as dirty as I could for the rest of the game.
I knew that we were going to lose, but I made up my mind to take a few people down with me. I committed some appalling fouls, hitting people in possession and smashing others off the ball.
Of course, not only was it dangerous play, but also stupid. It only raised England’s ire to such an extent that they thrashed us 53-3, the worst beating a Springbok side has ever suffered.
And you can imagine how I felt as the team’s captain. You can choose whichever words you wish: humiliation, hurt, pain, anger, resentment, fury; all of them applied to my state of mind that afternoon as we trudged off Twickenham.
When I sat down in the dressing room after the final whistle, I just cried my eyes out. I was mentally shattered and in great physical pain. I had bashed my body so badly that I was in agony.
I honestly believe that I took two years off my rugby career in that game. My body was destroyed. I cried through sheer pain and frustration. We’d had a terrible tour, lost all three games and been caught up in this total humiliation at the end of it.
The British media – especially the tabloids, whose appetite for scandal is as intense as Dracula’s for blood – had a field day.
There was a photograph of me elbowing Martin Johnson in the face. However, the picture didn’t show what had happened moments earlier: Johnson strangling me, so much so that I thought I was going to lose consciousness.
I was literally fighting for breath, and, in order to break his grip, I swung an elbow at his face. It was done just to try to get him off me, as an act of survival.
See the elbow incident here
But of course people went berserk about that incident, not wanting to hear what had led directly to it.
Twelve months later, when we got to the World Cup in Australia, I would again be surrounded by the British media, about a remark I had made to a South African journalist – one I had thought would be off the record.
In the event, it found its way into the press. I had called Johnson one of the dirtiest players in the world, and of course the British media latched onto my statement like pit bull terriers as soon as the Springbok squad arrived for the World Cup.
During the Twickenham match, I flew into rucks boots or head first. I felt no concern for my own safety or for the safety of others. I suppose you could say the red mist had descended;
I really lost it badly. The worse thing I did was to try to knock Matt Dawson out with a flying headbutt. I considered him one of the most arrogant guys in the team.
But I admit I was concerned when I heard that Dawson had suffered a neck injury, which at one stage was thought to be so serious that it might put an end to his career. It didn’t, but I wasn’t proud of my actions.
To compound matters, after the match our coach Rudolf Straeuli was questioned by British journalists about our rough- house antics. Straeuli bristled at the suggestions and said,
“We have two players concussed and one with a dislocated shoulder. Do you think we concussed ourselves?”
Unfortunately, Rudi had not been warned that Sky Television had footage showing me throwing a punch at an opponent, missing, and my fist connecting with the face of André Pretorius, our flyhalf.
I felt extremely embarrassed afterwards, as I knew the blow with which I had inadvertently felled André would not only make me look stupid, but would backfire on Straeuli for what he said at the press conference.
Twickenham 2002 was a total disaster for all South Africans, but especially for me. It has taken me years to get over that one game. Indeed, it is only recently that I have begun to deal with it.
I was very disappointed in those players who gave up. I knew a lot of them would never play for South Africa again. They never stood with me on the field, or afterwards when I was in a deep state of mental anguish and physical pain.
I felt I was in a minority, and that intensified the agony. So did the score: 3-53 is an absolute thrashing, and I still don’t think we deserved that. It added insult to injury.
Here are some more extracts about the match from an article published in the Guardian.
Woodward fears for game’s image in the wake of South Africa’s violent tactics
Test rugby is a physical contact sport and England, like all top sides, fully understand the law of the jungle. There are legitimate big hits and there are gratuitous cheap shots, but no international touring team in modern times have crossed the line as blatantly as the Springboks on Saturday.
Never mind the scoreline, a record defeat which should embarrass everyone connected with South African rugby. Worse, for those who care about the game’s image, was the manner in which the Boks shamed their proud heritage with their relentless head-hunting, sly elbows and calculated violence.
Even on the streets of Bloemfontein or Pretoria there should be scant pity for the South Africans at having to play three-quarters of the game with 14 players. The 23rd-minute dismissal of their lock Jannes Labuschagne, an optometry student who needs his own eyes tested if he felt his late shoulder charge on Wilkinson was justified, came immediately after the New Zealand referee Paddy O’Brien had warned both sides to calm down.
Even with 15 men the Boks had looked doomed once Ben Cohen completed a remarkable full set of tries against the leading nations by escaping Fleck’s tackle in the right corner.
Will Greenwood, with two artful tries either side of half-time, extended the margin and the half-century was raised via a penalty try for a high tackle on Christophers by Werner Greeff plus back-row incisions from Back, Richard Hill and Lawrence Dallaglio, a replacement for Lewis Moody who also has a damaged shoulder.
Greeff was cited yesterday for the high tackle by the French match commissioner Paul Mauriac and the full-back’s case, along with Labuschagne’s, will be heard tomorrow.
Here is a brief description of the match.
England first try started with a long break by Matt Dawson. Weaving left and right, the scrum-half found close support from Lawrence Dallaglio – a 14-minute replacement for Lewis Moody, who departed with a shoulder injury – and finally the quick gloss was supplied by Ben Cohen. The winger found an excellent line and, although tackled just short, reached out with a second movement to get the ball over the line.
A second movement?
The Springboks didn’t like it, but referee O’Brien had the last say.
The referee did, however, found himself unable to give what look on replay a second try for Cohen. Going up for an angled hoist by Wilkinson, the winger temporarily lost the ball in the air, quickly reclaimed and seemed to ground the ball as he fell backwards. After lengthy consultation a knock on was called.
But a seven-man South Africa pack still encountered great difficulty on their put-in. Twice the front row were penalised for popping up. ‘I know it’s hard,’ O’Brien told them, but you’re got to stay in.’
To the great credit of the seven, they put up a rock-solid wall when England tried to maul a lineout to the line. So the home side used their backs again. Twice the ball rippled down the line – once, with Wilkinson lying among the centre – and then Will Greenwood came on an inward angle. He had 20 metres to go and several defender’s in the way, but he showed impressive strength – in contrast to his normal deceptive stepping – to go over by the posts.
With South Africa opening their account with a Butch James penalty, and Wilkinson getting another straight after, it was a healthy 18-3 to England at the interval – an advantage they improved soon after the break when they stretched play to their left flank and Greenwood, ignoring the supporting winger’s switch inside him, kept going into the corner. Again, the try was scored in the aftermath of the tackle – this time with a bit of momentum added.
With Wilkinson having retired with a shoulder injury, Dawson took the conversion from touch and nailed it. That must have given a further surge to English spirits. Christophers now attempted to get in at the other corner, turning inwards between two defenders and catching the arm of Greeff around his neck. That resulted in a penalty try, issued with an expression of regret by O’Brien. Then England’s growing reputation as crosskick wizards, was underlined as replacement Austin Hill dinked the ball into the corner for Richard Hill to seize. Either side of that effort, Back and Dallaglio profited from English power at lineout maul and scrum against the weary seven.
England crossed twice in the first half to go in at the interval 18-3 in front, but it was in the second period when the weight of taking on a fiercely fit and powerful England side began to tell. South Africa shipped a further five tries, the last of which was a pushover touched down by Lawrence Dallaglio, on as a substitute.
Clich here to see a post-match interview with Will Greenwood as well as the Greenwood tries.
England: Robinson (Sale); Cohen (Northampton), Greenwood (Harlequins); Stimpson ,(Leicester), Tindall (Bath), Christophers (Bristol); Wilkinson (Newcastle); Healey (Leicester, 44), Dawson (Northampton); Gomarsall , (Gloucester); Leonard (Harlequins), Thompson (Northampton), Vickery (Gloucester), Johnson (Leicester, capt), Kay (Leicester); Grewcock , (Bath); Moody (Leicester); Dallaglio , (Wasps), Back (Leicester), Hill (Saracens).
Tries: Cohen, Greenwood 2, penalty try, Back, Hill, Dallaglio. Cons: Wilkinson, Dawson, Gomarsall 2, Stimpson 2. Pens: Wilkinson 2.
South Africa: Greeff (W Province); Paulse (W Province); Russell (Pumas), Fleck (W Province), James (Natal), Lombard (Free State); Pretorius (Lions); Jacobs , (Falcons), Conradie (W Province); Jordaan ,(Blue Bulls); Roux (Blue Bulls), Dalton (Falcons); Van Biljon , (Natal), Carstens (Natal); Van der Linde , (Free State), Labuschagne (Lions), Venter (Natal), Krige (Western Province, capt), Wannenburg (Blue Bulls), Van Niekerk (Lions).
Red card: Labuschagne.
Referee: P O’Brien (N Zealand).