Saturday, September 15, 2007


Although I support Wales - more in hope than expectation - I cheered on England in the last World Cup once my beloved Land of Bastards had been knocked out, and I wanted them to see off SA last night as they'd done in 2003.

Blimey. They were dire. I thought Wales were pretty poor against France in the last warm-up game - but at least they put a few points on the board. England were - well, I felt so sorry for those supporters.

What happened to the traditional England game ?

1) establish forward dominance in the first fifteen minutes. Pressure the scrums, get a few rolling mauls on the go, keep recycling the ball and wear them down until the penalties come. Get to the breakdowns quickly and in strength.

2) from this platform of dominance, the holes will emerge for the backs to exploit.

I know they'd lost key players, but not a single kickable penalty ! Farrell continually kicked long, finding SA backs in acres of space and all the time in the world, whereas every high kick by SA found the receiver with the sound of onrushing boots in his ears. It must be said the SA kickers had one of those miraculous nights when everything comes off, while Catt's failed to find touch penalty set the tone for subsquent England kicks. Only Jason Robinson (and maybe Nick Easter) seemed to want to take SA on - and both sides supporters recognised that in the ovation he got when he came off.

In 2003 England seemed set to dominate northern hemisphere rugby for the foreseeable. Where's it all gone ?

UPDATE - well, it could have been worse. But if you don't take all your chances against a team as good as Oz you'll regret it. Just as in the 2003 England game, Stephen Jones missed a couple of kickable penalties in the first half - at 6-3 to Wales it could have been a different game. Twice kicks that failed to make touch led to Australian tries. But they scrapped away and won the second half, though the gap was just too big to claw back. More idiosyncratic southern hemisphere reffing - how Gareth Thomas and Latham avoided cards I'll never know. And you always felt there was some creativity on the field - last night when Robinson went off you couldn't see the SA line being broken if the ref played 25 minutes injury time.

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