By Jon Bird
Another week of World Cup rugby and yet again we see England failing to perform, in what must have been one of their worst performances in recent years. As well as scoring “nil points” for the first time ever in a World Cup game for England (a testament to South Africa’s discipline), we were out-muscled, out-run and just out-played (excluding Mr Robinson)!
As I turned up to work this week I yet again faced the barrage of abuse from anyone and everyone regarding England’s performance. It’s got to the point where I’m starting to build immunity to any negative press towards the English because even I am losing interest in our lack lustre performances and nomadic wanderings on the pitch.
Perusing the papers during Monday lunchtime I was interested to read how the Kiwi press had viewed the display of South Africa against the “muscle bound pensioners”. The consensus was that England had humiliated themselves more than South Africa had played well. In one paper England were described:
“They are a lumbering and mega-rich mess; an ill-prepared outfit who have stupidly rested on their laurels, England offer nothing in entertainment. Their game is not a style; it’s a method of raising the white flag as slowly as possible. The only thing that stops you wanting to kick them on the way down is the sight of their coach Brian Ashton, because he looks like a kindly old granddad whom you simply can’t admonish, even though he keeps burning the dinner”.
All this written by a journalist who doesn’t like to bag English rugby out of hand but even I agree that he has a point. The national view in New Zealand is now turned from a position of being smug and laughing at the English, to one of pity at how a great rugby nation has fallen so quickly. It’s not good for the game and so far the press has labelled this World Cup the most boring ever, with skill levels having fallen (excluding the New Zealanders of course) globally.
According to the Kiwi press England need to “batten down the hatches” to stay in the competition and a fit Jonny Wilkinson is needed to bolster a team that was said to be close to tears after the nightmare of their record 36-0 mauling. Is the task of turning England’s game around a bridge too far for the great Jonny? I’m reluctant to say he might have met his match.
Another team who got most of the column inches was Portugal. The All Blacks vs. Portugal game being praised for its carnival atmosphere and gutsy performance from the rugby minnows. Titles read “Hey, plucky Portugal…..I like the way you move”, “Demolition far from simple” and “A reason for not reducing the number of teams”.
The Portuguese, knowing they were in for a shoeing, were brave and pretty intelligent in the way they approached the game. They don’t have the resources but the kiwis loved the way they went about the game given their rugby package. Portugal did themselves proud, ran to a standstill and only those with the hardest of hearts would not have shared their delight. In fact it was the press who turned on their own kind describing the All Black display as “scratchy in their execution with too many knock-ons and forward passes”. Being the only team in the World Cup with no professional players in their World Cup squad the Portuguese did themselves or other smaller rugby nations no harm at the weekend.
The press are also keen to point out how the World Cup betrays the smaller rugby nations and gives the established teams an edge in qualifying for the quarter finals with England having with eight days to prepare and Samoa only six. This IRB case of charity to the rich and disrespect for the poor is seen in a very dim light and the NZRFU are keen to back Michael Jones (who is still talked about with the highest regard) to use his status to prevent this happening in 2011.
So the focus now turns towards England’s clash with Samoa. The Samoans, thought to be the team to potentially upset England lost to Tonga and now all of a sudden the English have two crunch matches ahead of them! If England turn over Samoa this weekend then that is only half the job done. In New Zealand there is a feeling that there needs to be an upset to liven the World Cup up, we’ve had a few near misses (Ireland vs. Georgia) but the Kiwis are seriously looking to England to fail to qualify and give them their upset! Who can blame them?