Although rugby tournaments come and go, some things remain the same.
Whenever England play rugby, the allegations of cheating, boring cynical play follow. And we never lose an opportunity to bag them. It doesn’t really matter what for.
There was quite a bit of cynical play on display during England’s game against Argentina in the weekend, but the referee dealt with most of it, and sinbinned one of the England players. Another has been suspended.
In general England probably are no worse than many other teams in this area. They play to their strengths, which are to keep the ball close in, slow the game down, and grind the opposition down. It’s not pretty to watch, and yet when two teams with a similar style go at it the game can still be quite compelling. Such was the England-Argentina game. I don’t agree with John Roughan’s verdict on the game, and frankly I wonder if he actually knows what he’s on about.
I can understand why during the Clive Woodward era we grew to hate the England rugby team. For starters, they were actually a good team. Their 2003 World Cup win wasn’t a fluke, and came after years of preparation and the benefit of a settled team. We like to think that our Southern Hemisphere rugby competitions are the best, so watching a team from the other side of the world beat us (as they did in early 2003), and then later that year win the Cup, was painful. We are poor losers at the best of times, but when the opponent is not Australia or South Africa we are at our worst.
It also helped to stoke our hatred that Woodward seemed to personify a very English born-to-rule arrogance, and that an Englishman with a Welsh name writing for the Sunday Times continued to say unkind things about our team. How dare you, sir! How dare you!
The Woodward era of greatness came to a screaming halt during the 2005 Lions tour, when the All Blacks annihilated Woodward’s men (a team dominated by England players) in three tests. We had destroyed England in two tests the year before. In the games with England since then we have dominated, and that domination doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
And yet we still go on and on about the bloody English, as if we still have a point to prove. Myself included.
Let’s let this piece of historical baggage go. If England’s clearly-inferior team manages to do better than us for the third World Cup in a row then maybe we’ll be allowed to get steamed up again, so long as we continue to claim that we’re better than they are and it’s just because they cheat and play a dull game that they win. Because that will make our behaviour okay and not petty, right?
But until then let’s be gracious hosts and stop bagging them.