Webb Ellis whitewash

2007-10-17 12:44

Chris Hewitt

After their 36-0 capitulation to the Boks in the pool stages, England's progression to the final has been the stuff of fable. It's also been a bloody farce.

This is a side ranked seventh in the world heading into the tournament, and not looking a place better for much of the last four years.

This is a side who within 12 months have lost their last four Tests to the men in green and gold, at home, away and on neutral ground.

This is a side coached by man whose rugby philosophy is as up-to-date, relevant and inspiring as the Penny Farthing.

And this is a side who depend more on one man than the giraffes did on Noah.

And yet, somehow, this is a team in their second consecutive Rugby World Cup final.

"When England were thrashed 36-0 by South Africa in Paris they were a team without a game," proclaims The Sun, the most widely read British daily. "When they return to the Stade de France they do so as a team who have become the game."

The same piece states further that "... this England team are prepared to rip the heart from your body and terrify your soul."

Such hyper-ventilation at the thought of the Mud Island winning anything again would be funny if the reality weren't so damn scary: The Poms are actually 80 minutes from winning the thing. Again.

Such a scare, fueled by the kind of sensationalistic, beer-sizzled furor as exhibited in the article quoted above has prompted virtually the entire rugby planet to get behind the Boks.

A poll on leading Kiwi site RugbyHeaven.co.nz, for example, has two thirds of respondents preferring a Bok triumph.

Sideshows aside, the truth is, regardless of mind-games, media rants and BMT, England are simply not good enough to beat the Boks.

The only hope they have is, like with France's fear of failure and Australia's disregard for the basics of forward play, we conspire to beat ourselves.

A lot has been made of the direction provided by halfback pairing Andy Gomarsall and Jonny Wilkinson. Both didn't start the 36-0 match, it is argued, and they have made England a new side.

Utter rubbish.

The same two individuals started in June this year in the two Tests in Bloemfontein and Pretoria. Granted, both times they scored more points than in Paris four weeks back, but somehow the overall scores of 58-10 and 55-22 to the Boks took the gloss off such attacking potency.

In terms of tactics, the Poms have little in their arsenal that will scare White.

Media reports suggest they'll target "Peacock Percy", as he has been dubbed in the Pom press, but whether they have the personnel to match the plan remains to be seen.

Sure, Wilkinson can launch the biggest aerial bombardment on French soil since World War II, but who are the chasers?

In Mike Catt and Mathew Tait (he may be forced to shift to the wing to cover for the injured Josh Lewsey), England have a small midfield pairing, with neither renowned for their aerial ability. Ditto Jason Robinson, whilst the expected forward pack - with the exception of Lewis Moody - do not possess the pace to get under the kicks and compete regularly.

Kicking to touch ain't wise either, as the Boks' primary strength - the lineout - has yet to falter at the tournament.

So what else?

If South Africa's demolition of Argentina has underlined anything, it is the simple fact that you cannot concede turnover ball to White's side. Throw in the ever-present risk of intercepts and you can chuck out expansive rugby as a tactic.

It leaves England with a bash-it-up bonanza. Low risk rugby, with the express instruction not to turn the ball over.

It's the equivalent of rocking up at Old Trafford as Birmingham City and sticking 11 men behind the ball in an effort to sneak a point and maybe even a breakaway goal against Manchester United. Yer chances are slim, lad.

Argentina tried the same tactic, but once the Boks got ahead early, they were forced to play catch-up rugby and hence the mistakes multiplied.

England will try frustrate the Boks by shutting them out early. They'll try and keep the score low and hope the occasion beats the Boks. It's guerrilla warfare, desperate stuff, but their only option.

God save the Queen? Let's all be thankful that on Saturday in Paris, He's the only one who can.

  • Chris is Chief Rugby Writer at Sports Illustrated and a former SAB Rookie Sports Journalist of the Year.

  • Send Chris your thoughts

    Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


    AB praises selfless skipper

    2010-11-21 18:15

    Join the conversation!

    24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

    We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
    Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

    24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

    Comment on this story
    Comments have been closed for this article.

    Inside News24

    Traffic Alerts
    There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


    Create Profile

    Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

    Please provide a username for your profile page:

    This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


    Location Settings

    News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

    Facebook Sign-In

    Hi News addict,

    Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

    Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.