Test on a knife-edge

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After a fourth day of high drama and switching fortunes the fourth Test between South Africa and England was still too close to call.

England finished 189 ahead with five wickets standing and with Marcus Trescothick, who made his 10th Test century on Sunday, still at the crease. "If we take the score to 300, we can still win this game," he said. But England were badly shaken by losing Michael Vaughan, Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff in 25 balls for only 11 runs and when they were offered the chance to go off for bad light Trescothick and Geraint Jones fairly sprinted for the pavilion. The day began with a scare for South Africa when their captain Graeme Smith was hit on the side of the head during fielding practice and stayed off the field until after tea with slight concussion.

Matthew Hoggard claimed his fifth wicket - for only the third time in Tests - in his first over when Shaun Pollock was lbw, but Jones then dropped Nicky Boje who went on to make 48. Herschelle Gibbs, dropped by Jones late on Saturday, reached 161 as South Africa posted 419, a first innings lead of eight. England had to bat two overs before lunch and lost Andrew Strauss at the start of the second for nought. Then Robert Key was caught at slip, also off Makhaya Ntini, as England raced to 50. Trescothick and Vaughan seemed to be taking control until Smith came back on to the field.

Six overs later Vaughan was caught behind the wicket at 175. Thorpe scrambled a single to avoid a pair but pushed his first ball from Jacques Kallis straight down the pitch and Kallis held a superb tumbling catch. Andrew Flintoff hit Pollock for six over midwicket but flashed at the next ball and was caught behind.


Newcastle Falcons reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken European Cup for the first time after beating Newport Gwent Dragons 25-17, writes Huw Richards at Kingston Park.

They ended as winners of pool five but will have to travel to Stade Français for the quarter-final in April. The two other English qualifiers emerging from the final pool stage weekend also have to travel. Leicester, gifted one of the best runners-up places by Perpignan's 40-17 loss at Edinburgh, will go to Leinster while Northampton visit Toulouse. Biarritz will entertain Munster in the other match. Newcastle showed admirable spirit after a build-up disrupted by numerous injuries and a tedious spat between the two clubs over events following their earlier meeting at Newport.

Director of rugby Rob Andrew declared himself particularly pleased with the efforts of Mark Wilkinson, elder brother of Jonny and normally a centre, who was solidly competent at outside-half in his first start this season and was involved in two of their three tries.

Australian full-back Matt Burke, doubtful almost until kick-off, was named man of the match after claiming 15 points, including the 77th minute try that finally ended Newport's challenge. Wales vice-captain Colin Charvis, outstanding until he went off with an ankle injury after an hour, scored their first try and wing Tom May claimed the other. As Andrew said, a great deal can happen in the three months before the quarter-final but the thought of entertaining Newcastle is unlikely to occasion Stade Français much concern.

Even allowing for difficult, windy conditions this was a contest of abysmal quality containing every common rugby error plus a few innovations and rarities. Newport were desperately poor, a superbly created second-half try completed by wing Kevin Morgan apart. Wing Gareth Wyatt and lock Ian Gough scored their other tries. They trailed throughout and their failure in an eminently winnable contest means that Wales will be unrepresented for the first time in the play-off stages of the Heineken.


He courts controversy with such infallible consistency that it is easy to forget what an effective footballer Duncan Ferguson can be, writes Jonathan Wilson. On Sunday, almost uniquely in his turbulent career, he was the innocent party in a 20-man brawl but, more importantly for Everton, he laid on the equaliser that gave them a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough and stretched their advantage over fifth-placed Liverpool to seven points.

When Ferguson lumbered off the bench with 17 minutes remaining, it seemed the caprice of the woodwork was going to hand the points to Boro. The home side had taken the lead after 25 minutes. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink laid in Boudewijn Zenden and, as Richard Wright advanced from his goal, he clipped the ball goalwards. Alan Stubbs, charging back, got a foot to the ball but, at full tilt, could only divert it on to the underside of the crossbar and in.

Six minutes earlier Lee Carsley, stretching similarly for a Kevin Kilbane cross at the other end, had sent his shot thudding against the bar and over. Then, in the second half, James Beattie stabbed an effort against the base of the post after Mark Schwarzer, who had an unconvincing afternoon, had dropped another centre from the excellent Kilbane. But, just two minutes after coming on, Ferguson calmly headed Tony Hibbert's cross back across goal where Tim Cahill bundled it over the line.

If that was the positive, the negative followed soon after. Schwarzer fumbled another cross and, as he grabbed for it, Ferguson thrust out a leg, catching the goalkeeper. Zenden and Colin Cooper reacted furiously and, as the pushing and shoving continued, every outfield player ended up grappling in the back of the net. "There was a bit of a scrimmage," Zenden said. "Mark dropped the ball, got it back and there were a few hyenas trying to get in there."

It is an indictment of the fall-off in quality after the Premiership's top three that an encounter between two of the sides battling for fourth could produce so little football of note.

In Sunday's other Premiership match, Fulham were fortunate to beat bottom-placed West Bromwich Albion 1-0 with an injury-time goal from Papa Bouba Diop. Meanwhile Chris Sutton's 24th minute goal gave Celtic a 1-0 win at Aberdeen and moved them back to the top of the Scottish Premier League.

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