2 Dec

They Think It's All Over – It Is Now!
by Colin Johnston
2 Dec 2003

The above eight words are repeated ad nauseum by the TV as the long suffering British viewing public is treated to the spectacle of England winning the World Cup with the last kick of the game, in extra time, against an old foe. Only it is not the Webb Ellis Trophy but the soccer version that this refers to. This is even though this Earth shattering event happened 37 years ago. And now what’s happened? The Aussies and All Blacks have conspired to hand England the RWC. The rest of the UK will now have to smile and nod, for two such video replays that were almost identical in their final execution.

In absolute fairness, England deserved the win in Sydney. They have without doubt, been the best test match playing rugby team in the World for the past two years. Indeed, this is probably the first team ever to win the World Cup that deserves the title of ‘World Champions’ even though winning the World Cup doesn’t bestow this title on the winners. Okay, it has taken me over a week to actually put fingers to keyboard and admit it, but there you go. I’ve done it and I am now out of denial and on the road to recovery.

So, what lessons can we learn from this?

The first one is simple. Large helpings of humble pie are to be eaten by all those that said the English forwards are too old and that they would wilt in the heat (I think I maybe said something along those lines, as I have been receiving quotes to that effect for the past week). Anyway, the forwards didn’t wilt and they didn’t take a step back, get sent off or anything else that I perhaps ill advisedly suggested they would. They were absolutely magnificent for long periods of the final and they choked the life out of the opposition for even longer stretches of the match. It is a credit to the Aussies that they never got completely swamped under the white tide. By the way, I have found through personal use that large quantities of humble pie are best washed down with some of the Aussie’s latest whine made from Australia’s best and purest sour grapes.

Second thing is yes, even when the Aussie’s have brought their own ref to hand out penalties in the very last minute thereby giving the Aussies what is normally a thoroughly undeserved win, they can still lose a test match. How many times have the Aussies kicked the winner with the siren about to go and stolen the game? This time England refused to buckle and they took the game back up field and kept it there until Wilco killed the Aussie’s off.

Thirdly and this one is aimed at Merry Mitch and his crew of eternal optimists, always, always pick a blend of battle hardened test match winners and youth. Pick a goal kicker, have more than one game plan, do not do the inevitable and even if you personally don’t like the alternative, leave the developing kids at home and bring along the match breakers that are sitting in the lounge watching the game with their mates. Forward domination wins matches. Goal kickers win world cups. Chant this mantra for 5 minutes every night before you go to bed.

Fourth, oh yes there’s more where this came from, fourth is that Super 12 and Test Match rugby have the same number of players on the park and use the same shaped ball. That is all they have in common. What we have seen over the past 2 months is that Test rugby requires a mental fortitude and playing style that Super 12 doesn’t recognise. The other thing the RWC has brought to light is how bad some of the refs are that have cut their teeth in Super 12. Steve Walsh, for a variety of reasons including his outburst at the England officials and his abysmal performance in the Oz v Scotland match should never and I mean never, be given an international assignment as a ref again. At best he could be the video ref, but only if supervised and I certainly wouldn’t let him near the remote control. He typifies Super 12. Looks flashy, shorts and shirt are suitably fashionable and he is wired for sound. Zero substance or delivery but he is wired for sound. Super 12 is one thing and one thing only – entertainment for the masses. It is the media companies way of trying to recoup the investment they make along with the sponsors, such as Nike, and frankly they don’t care what happens to the game along the way so long as they get the ratings. They don’t care about the game, honest. If you think they do, I’ve got a second hand car you may wish to buy!

Fifth and finally, if New Zealand wants to win the Webb Ellis trophy and have their opportunity to be called ‘World Champions’ then they must rebuild from the bottom up. Start by strengthening and not threatening the NPC, make it the pre-eminent tournament that a Kiwi can play in without actually pulling on the Black shirt. Allow proper tours to and from the Northern Hemisphere. Offer the Lions a minimum of a ten match Tour in 2005 with at least three tests plus a host of games against the NPC sides (definitely not the Super 12 ones!) and then watch your own game grow.

It’s your call, fast and loose or fronted up and in the final.