Brace yourself for another barrage of superlatives to add to the long list of media reports singing the England rugby team’s praises. Just sensational. There were many of us who approached yesterday’s game with hidden hope, but very few can claim real expectation. This was sport at its absolute best.
There can be few better feelings in sport than triumph in an ancient, antagonistic and often hostile rivalry. To do it as massive underdogs, on the biggest stage, against every prediction, versus our fiercest rivals, in the face of all their pre-game rhetoric must be unparalleled in terms of satisfaction. Had Stirling Mortlock defied his prior form with the boot and stroked the winning penalty over at the death it would have been the biggest injustice on world cup record.
England may have won by two points on the scoreboard but they were better at every part of the game, and the merciless destruction up front was a joy to every fan. It’s even better that it was close, it’s tremendous that we did it without needing to score a try, it’s simply phenomenal that we broke the Aussie spirit along with their hearts. A bar in Parsons Green is also without its sizeable antique mirror now following some over enthusiastic celebrations from yours truly!
John O’Neill’s well-documented but less well-considered statements have been unceremoniously booted down his oesophagus. He accused the English of a ‘born to rule’ mentality: on the evidence of Andrew Sheridan and chums’ annihilation of their pack perhaps this perceived attitude is justified. After his initial errors awarding penalties the wrong way, every time Alain Rolland blew for a scrum I expected the English to come away with the ball, regardless of who was putting in. Tell your story walking Campo. I can’t imagine one non-Australian had the least trace of compassion as we bid cheerio to a team and a nation who are the true masters of sporting arrogance. We will salute George Gregan and the unfortunate Stephen Larkham as stalwart veterans with the legend tag rightly allocated, but we will not shed a tear as they pack their bags with the rest of their team mates.
There were heroes all over the pitch, and I suspect that the Australians slightly regret their ill-advised tactic of trying to wind Sheridan up, as they not only succeeded in waking the beast but also managed to anger the normally placid giant. And he made them pay, in the tight and loose. Regan and Vickery/Stevens backed him up at all times, as our pack displayed the kind of power in the contact area that few can compete with – the men in green and gold were simply out-muscled and trampled on. Away from the big men, Mathew Tait had his best game with the rose on his chest. The very fact that you didn’t really notice him is testament to how well he coped opposite the Australian captain, to whom he was giving away virtually 2 stone and buckets of experience. Never has the phrase ‘chin up’ been so apt: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, bye, bye, bye.
The celebrating will go on for a long time, and I think I’m fair to say that even the biggest trouncing by France next week would not supersede the feel good factor and general gloating inspired by events in Marseille. In many ways, it is disappointing that England will not begin their semi-final by facing the haka for the first time in eight years at the world cup. However, although my memory of the France-New Zealand epic is somewhat more hazy, I can confirm that not only did I find myself doing the unthinkable and supporting our Gallic neighbours, but even leading chants of ‘allez les bleus’ and a slightly more debauched version of the Marseillaise. It really was an extraordinary day, and the memory of Dan Carter sitting distraught and helpless, more due to the match he was forced into leaving than the injury which caused it, was emotive and abiding.
It really did appear at the nonchalance and seeming disregard displayed by both Southern Hemisphere teams (and again by the South Africans today) that they fully expected to turn up, put on a show and progress through to the next round. It was ridiculous that France sacrificed apparently their only advantage by not playing this match at home, despite being the host nation, but how little they needed it. Forget that both passes that led to their winning try were forward, this win was absolutely deserved. Again New Zealand go home early, in fact earlier than they ever have. The inquest can begin, the mourning will be intense and after the well-practised post mortem Graham Henry can carry on clearing his office. Never mind Graham, Wales would probably welcome you back!
England have been the worst ever reigning world champions by a distance. They also now have a genuine and realistic opportunity to do what has never been achieved before, hold on to the Webb Ellis Cup and have another four years to redeem that record. The French are self-evidently beatable, we would fancy taking the Argies on or surely the Rugby Gods in their wisdom can see the potential fireworks and catharsis that a rematch with South Africa would provide. Either way, I’ll finish as I started, with a superlative: magnifique!
By Rob Douglas