it was a win, on the big stage.
And it’s another World Cup final and that is all that matters.
England’s 14-9 victory over France on Saturday wasn’t the greatest game of rugby ever played but it was one of the most edge of the seat, exciting 80 minutes of union played for some time.
And while those Southern Hemisphere whingers are crying about the lack of flowing play and tries they are also crying into their beer about being back home when England are in their second consecutive World Cup final and their third overall.
Yeah we all had written them off a month ago but here they are 80 minutes away from a glory that will surpass that of 2003. That team of Woodward and Johnson’s were a well trained, well oiled, well honed machine that was built from the ’99 tournament with one aim to win in ’03. Nothing was left to chance, every detail was planned out and all the players were at a peak never before reached by an England outfit and has certainly never really been reached since.
This lot were at the bottom only four weeks ago, after four years of going nowhere under Andy Robinson and then the shambles at the beginning of this competition this squad of players were as far removed from that previous group as they probably could be. But 36 days after that 36 point humiliation they’ll have the chance to make the last four years meaningless.
This wasn’t pretty, it was never going to be, neither was it going to be as easy as the quarter final against Australia. England did in this game the things not done in the last that helped them to win that one, there was balls dropped in contact, bad offloading and giving away stupid penalties that resulted in all the French points. They had cut all that out against the Aussies and they’ll have to make sure they cut it out against the Boks as Percy will make them pay.
All the points scored in the semi were gifted by the opposition from Damien Traille’s dithering from Andy Gomersall’s box-kick that let Leswey bundle him over for the only try of the game after less than 80 seconds of the match. Through the dumb penalties given away by England in kickable positions that saw them trail from the eighth minute until that high tackle on Robinson saw Wilkinson kick them to an 11-9 lead with five minutes remaining.
Wilko’s kicking has been severely sub his usual high standard, both place and from hand but when he had that one to go ahead did anyone doubt? And was there any doubt when he was pacing around behind the pack looking for the right angle and the right piece of flat ground with two minutes to go that he was going to finally get a drop over the bar? Cometh the hour and all that.
With France needing a converted try, they could have been at there most dangerous but thankfully Michalak was having one of his more frequent shockers and even though they made breaks and gains throughout you felt England were going to hang on. Yes they had chances but they were snuffed out time after time, never more importantly than earlier in the game with Joe Worsely’s ankle tap on Vincent Clerc and the follow up tackles by Catt and Corry that stopped Chabal rumbling over the line after he’d taken the offload from Clerc. A real turning point, France score there and more than likely it was game over.
But at least the French lost with some dignity, blaming themselves not anybody else as certain seasoned chokers and whingers have done over the last week.
So back at the place they were destroyed by South Africa only five weeks earlier England have a chance to make history and become the first team to retain the Webb Ellis Cup, we had our Dunkirk in September now it’s time for one final Agincourt to follow the last those of the last two weekends. It’s a shame that Lewsey will be missing, but I feel that Hipkiss has to start after his performance as a sub, he looked the part, strong in defence and a good step going forward.
England have to walk off that Stade de France pitch next Saturday night with no regrets, they can’t walk off head down as France did, as Australia the week before knowing it was there and they let themselves down by not doing their best. No what ifs, just do.
Don’t be like the squad of ’91 who should have won but were talked out of it and have regretted it ever since, this isn’t some poncy girly pastime like ice skating you don’t get marks for artistic impression it’s all about points on the board. Score any way you can, if you lift that trophy at the end nobody but a bunch of whingers sat back home 12,000 miles away will give a stuff.
And then could it be arise Sir Brian of Ashton, Sir Jonny of Wilkinson and even an honorary Sir Kenny of Rogers… all together now…