Coming forth to carry me home (empty handed)

Before yesterday’s rugby world cup final I was supporting England. I thought it would be good for a northern hemisphere team to win and I do live in England after all. However, my support was reluctant because, as is common, my social media feeds were full of English fans disparaging the Welsh with pictures such as this:

Here’s the thing. Wales punch miles above their weight when it comes to rugby considering their size, population, and mediocre clubs (none seriously competes in the Heineken Cup). Finishing 4th for the second time in 8 years is a pretty decent achievement. Realistically, Wales are never going to win a world cup. It would take them having a freakishly good team and everyone else to be unusually crap, and it would be an upset not quite on the scale of Greece winning the 2004 European Championship but something close to it. The best Wales can do is win the Grand Slam fairly frequently, get to the semis of a world cup, and claim a southern hemisphere scalp every now and then.

England, by contrast, are massive underachievers when it comes to rugby. They’re a large nation with well-funded infrastructure and teams which regularly compete and win the Heineken Cup. By rights they should be winning the Six Nations most years, Grand Slams several times a decade, and thinking they’ve had a poor tournament if they finish second. They should be finalists or semi-finalists in every world cup, and should have won more than one by now. For the English to mock the Welsh for having not having won a rugby world cup is like France mocking Belgium’s inability to win a world cup at football. I’ve often thought that England’s solitary RWC win 16 years ago has had the same effect as their FIFA one in 1966: they dine out on it for decades, kid themselves they’re genuine contenders every year, but somehow never add to the trophy cabinet.

And so it proved yesterday, when England got taken apart by a South African side who were better in every department on the day. The two most comprehensive beatings of the tournament between top tier sides was England’s defeat of New Zealand and South Africa’s thrashing England. The problem England have had for a long time is they’re invincible when their game plan works as it did against New Zealand, but if it doesn’t they have to wait for half time so the coach can tell them what to do instead. They’re a team seriously lacking in leadership. They’ve got strength, skill, and guts in abundance but nobody with the rugby brain of a Kieran Read, Beauden Barrett, or Faf de Klerk. A couple of seasons back in the Six Nations the Italians decided to throw a spanner in the works by refusing to form rucks, meaning they could defend from positions which would otherwise be offside. The England team, seemingly lacking anyone who knew the rules, had no idea what was even happening let alone how to deal with it.

So yesterday when they found their scrum going backwards at 30mph in the first few minutes they lost their heads. Ben Youngs threw a ball over the head of the winger and out of play, George Ford hoofed it into touch on the full, passes went astray, and balls were knocked on. Manu Tuilagi, the hero against New Zealand, didn’t trouble the commentators until a quarter of the match had been played. A lot of people are blaming the referee, but sloppy play is hardly his fault. England were unlucky to lose Kyle Sinckler so early on, but I doubt that made much difference. South Africa simply wanted it more, and played as though they were in a final. This maul appearing from nowhere in open play is one of the best moves I’ve seen in a rugby match:

As the match wore on I found my support for England waning on the grounds that I didn’t think they deserved it. As someone on Twitter said, New Zealand played their final against Ireland, and England played theirs against New Zealand. South Africa played theirs in the actual final, and deservedly won. England, having won one final out of four, are starting to look like chokers. My advice is they worry more about their consistent underachieving rather than spending time mocking smaller nations. After all, we were ravaged by injuries yet came within one penalty kick of stopping South Africa reaching the final, and we put a try past them. Maybe they should swap Eddie Jones for Warren Gatland?

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29 thoughts on “Coming forth to carry me home (empty handed)

  1. That clip shows a stupid move. The maul hasn’t formed, so the tackler can legally bring down the ball carrier. If the ball carrier smuggles the ball back in the maul, he’s in front of the ball carrier, so offside for obstruction. Easy to defend against, England’s error was to commit more than two tacklers.

  2. A few English people post images like the one you show. It generally comes from decades of having chippy Welsh supporting anyone but England and telling everyone how determined they are to do so (plus England should win every RWC and Fatcher closed our mines etc).

    The only time rugby banter gets close to abuse or worse is when England play and there’s Celts watching, as I noted watching Eng v Tonga in a pub full of Scotland & Ireland fans at a pub in Yokahama.

    A mate of mine got called an ‘English cunt’ by some Irish lads for wearing his England shirt to the Japan v Ireland match.

    Still, those nasty memes, eh?

  3. That clip shows a stupid move.

    So stupid they won an immediate penalty right in front of the posts.

    The maul hasn’t formed, so the tackler can legally bring down the ball carrier.

    Which is easy when 8 beef-fed Jaapies are in his shoulder.

    Easy to defend against, England’s error was to commit more than two tacklers.

    Why, it’s almost as if the English team aren’t savvy enough about the rules to make smart decisions on the fly, and this can be exploited by doing something a bit different and unexpected.

  4. It generally comes from decades of having chippy Welsh supporting anyone but England and telling everyone how determined they are to do so

    A fair point. I’d argue the best way to disappoint them is to win trophies.

    Still, those nasty memes, eh?

    No, the memes are fine. If they win. Otherwise, it looks like a major nation is deploying them in lieu of trophies.

  5. What a final and outstanding performance by the Boks, the game of the century.

    One bad game doesn’t make a bad team in the case of England, unless it’s the final. A bit too much of that man bonding stuff for my liking, just too gay for me followed by looking like unsporting spoiled little brats in defeat, some things will never change.

    But when you think about the outcome, God really does work in mysterious ways. There is no way that England should be led to world victory by a Taswegian, that is just plain wrong, on so many levels and just wouldn’t have worked for me.

    Without a Taswegian at the top, there is very real hope for England in France 23.

  6. Good analysis. England just have no ability to adapt on the field. I do support Wales when it’s not against England, as you say, small country that does really well in this one area. Oddly I thought we would beat SA but lose to Wales, so was a bit mixed when Wales lost in the semi. Would have been great to have a final between Wales and England.

  7. “Realistically, Wales are never going to win a world cup.”

    I can’t say I agree with this. Wales were close to edging the semi, and are/were of similar nous and attitude.

    Had the Welsh got the final kick in, they had the first attack but went too early with a drop attempt, it would have been England v Wales in the final and who knows.

    I doubt the Welsh team feel they did well, especially not after the final.

  8. The whole Wales are only a small country thing doesn’t really wash, as New Zealand’s population is slightly less than Ireland’s. Does that mean Ireland should beat them more often and if not they are underachieving?

  9. I’m not a follower of rugby – the nearest I’ve got to active participation is standing on the touchline at my sons’ school matches. However, the bit that really annoyed me on Saturday was the refusal of many England players to wear the runners-up medal: just graceless in defeat: pathetic – truly pathetic.

  10. Oh, and, the England ODI side are surely more one-dimensional than the rugby side.

    The World Cup was won by fluke if we’re honest, regardless of the effort and planning that had gone before. The team demonstrated during the tournament that while they were pretty much unplayable on a true wicket, they were distinctly average when the going was harder.

  11. “Realistically, Wales are never going to win a world cup.”

    Never is a big word! For the FIFA World Cup then pretty much yes. For the Rugby WC, I dunno.

    With ten minutes of the semi to play and the scores level with Wales in possession, you’d surely have given them at least a 10% chance of winning the tournament, and possibly rather more? That’s not “never” territory, it’s “unlikely” territory, but there’s a difference.

    If they’ve got circa a one in twenty chance of winning any given WC, that might be around a 50% chance of doing so in your lifetime. You might argue the toss based on what you think might happen over the next few decades in terms of emergence of new rugby nations (maybe the USA or Japan will kick on, one day maybe Russia will come to the WC as reigning Eight Nations Grand Slam winners, but in terms of competing for WC glory I don’t think this will be a major factor for decades), decline of others (perhaps Aus, in front of our eyes, as Union seems to be irretrievably waning there) and sheer demographics (might favour RSA and be a bit unkind to Wales) but if you’ve got a good few decades left in you, then you’ve surely got a better chance of living to see Wales win the WC than rolling a six on a di[c]e.

    So live in hope, though it is of course the hope that pains you…

  12. Losing to South Africa and many other teams is something that England have learned to accept. But for our sporting ambassadors to embarrass our nation and insult our hosts as they did during the post match presentations, was a disgraceful thing for them to do and for our country, a situation which should never have been allowed to happen.

    The offenders and the captain should be given a public dressing down and told in no uncertain terms that any type of repeat performance is totally unacceptable.

  13. I generally support Wales after England. However I watched the game against South Africa with a couple of mates who supported the Springboks. This was because in their experience, Welsh Rugby fans are nearly as bad as the Scots for taking the attitude “Anybody but the English”.

    And that is what this is all about. The Scots, the Irish, and it seems increasingly the Welsh take the attitude that they just want England to lose.

    So is it at all surprising that this engenders a backlash? And it spills over to other things as well.

    Remember the “shock” at the poll saying that Tory Brexit voters would rather ditch Scotland than give up Brexit? Why the surprise? Why would you want to keep on a surly lodger who seeks to spite anything you attempt to achieve?

  14. I wonder if Danny Ciprani would have made a difference. He was the last English fly half to win against South Africa in South Africa. The first since Johnny Wilkinson

  15. Come on, guys! It is just a game. And for a game, there need to be opposing sides. If the game is to become a major spectator sport, then the spectators need to get involved and cheer on one team or another, sometimes taking things a little to excess — because spectators are human too.

    It really does not matter if we call the teams England & South Africa, or Bloods & Crips — just as long as the spectators care enough to get involved. If the spectators don’t care, then we end up with something like women’s soccer.

    Of course, there are always exceptions. For some reason, spectators will happily watch Ladies Beach Volleyball without even knowing or caring about the names of the teams.

    More seriously, I have to agree with “Things can only get better” about the post-match performance of the England team. The English are not the sportsmen they used to be.

  16. Oddly I thought we would beat SA but lose to Wales, so was a bit mixed when Wales lost in the semi.

    Yes, Wales are a bogey team for England.

    Would have been great to have a final between Wales and England.

    Hell yes.

  17. The whole Wales are only a small country thing doesn’t really wash, as New Zealand’s population is slightly less than Ireland’s.

    It’s not just about population, although on that measure alone New Zealand are staggering overachievers. It’s about the club structure, participation rate, the money in the game, the competing sports. New Zealand is solely focused on rugby, they don’t do much else, whereas rugby in Wales competes with football and they don’t even play it much in the north.

    Does that mean Ireland should beat them more often and if not they are underachieving?

    No, because rugby in Ireland has to compete with other sports. But when it comes to World Cups, Ireland are underachievers. You’d not expect them to win, but they should appear more regularly in the semi-finals and been in at least one final by now.

  18. And that is what this is all about. The Scots, the Irish, and it seems increasingly the Welsh take the attitude that they just want England to lose.

    What’s always baffled me is how the Welsh seem to draw the bulk of the English ire, while they tend to arselick the Scots and the Irish to a much greater extent. The only time you’ll get a lot of Welsh slagging off the English is during a rugby match, driven mainly by jealously and the chip on the shoulder that comes with being a smaller nation. But otherwise, most Welsh don’t mind the English. Whereas the Irish planted bombs in English shopping centres and murdered English soldiers, and the Scots hold anti-English political rallies culminating in over 40% of them saying they want a separate country. Yet it’s the Welsh who the English dislike the most. Go figure.

  19. I wonder if Danny Ciprani would have made a difference.

    Successive coaches failed to be impressed by him. I don’t know what he was lacking.

  20. I only bothered reading this post to get to the inevitable analysis by Bardon in the comments.

    He truly is the most knowledgeable sports pundit on the internet. I, for one, would pay an extra $50 a month to Fox Sports for a red button “Bardon commentary” option on rugby matches.

    But then again, Pee Wee Herman could do a better job than Phil “gee” Kearns.

    As for the Jaapies, well done. Hopefully that makes the power cuts and war zone murder rates seem bearable.

  21. What’s always baffled me is how the Welsh seem to draw the bulk of the English ire

    Nope. Not even close. Talk to most English Nationalists and they can’t wait to be rid of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales gets a pass. It tends to think and vote like the North of England – hence also voting for Brexit, something the commentariat loves to gloss over and ignore.

    And that’s what it is all about. Do you look at what you have in common? Or do you emphasise how you are different?

    That’s the standard to be judged on.

  22. >They should be finalists or semi-finalists in every world cup, and
    >should have won more than one by now.

    I think one is about right, actually. The World Cup has been played nine times. New Zealand should have won it at least seven times. England and South Africa maybe once each. And that is about it.

    But well – that’s not what happened.

    Interesting to note that on the last four times New Zealand have not won the World Cup, the side that beat them then proceeded to fail to win the tournament (and indeed to lose their next game). Other sides do seem to play their final against New Zealand and then not be able to follow it up.

  23. I saw a wag somewhere saying that the England / NZ match was the true final, and the England / Saffa match was simply to find out the first and second places. Amused me.

  24. Also, I think there may be an advantage of being drawn in the same pool group as New Zealand. You see them close up early on, you definitely end up on the opposite side of the draw for the knockout stage, and someone else will hopefully knock them out of the competition for you.

  25. @Tim Newman
    “Successive coaches failed to be impressed by him. I don’t know what he was lacking.”
    Decent behaviour off field I would guess.
    His effect on Gloucester last year was pretty amazing.

  26. Well, I’m happy England beat New Zealand. I did not want to see a certain Blair Babe holding a victory parade with the World Cup trophy.

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