England Rugby Football Union’s Chief Executive Ian Ritchie got a bit cross with England’s recent near-miss in the Six Nations tournament. Understandably, Mr Ritchie takes the view that these annual hard luck stories are becoming much too commonplace for the rugby warriors of Blighty. However, this improving and indeed dynamic young England team are not far superior to the other European protagonists, so therefore it is a trifle unrealistic to expect the men in white to sweep all before them. They are on a par with Ireland and Wales, no more, no less. Of course it is frustrating to come up narrowly short in grand slam pursuits in recent years, but the Oirish and Welsh have similarly shot themselves in the foot in their own grand slam attempts in recent times, so England do not hold the monopoly on grand slam or championship-winning setbacks.
This current England team are good and far from “unacceptable”, but they certainly are not in a league of their own, as results accurately bear out. Perhaps where England have been an obvious failure is that blessed with greater rugby resources, both financial and in terms of manpower, they still sometimes play second fiddle to their British and Irish neighbours. This is possibly “unacceptable”. Personally I reckon that Mr Ritchie’s outburst would have been better directed at the ludicrously under-performing England cricket team. In fact they need someone like him to insert a rocket up their collective backsides. They are far more of a disgrace than their rugby union counterparts!
Then the rest of the non-English are treated to repeated drivel about how England are bound to perform well at the imminent World Cup because of ‘home advantage’. Well, home advantage is way over-rated. When John Bull had home advantage in 1991, he did not succeed, yet when the English travelled far from home in 2003, they were able to win the World Cup. The best team in the world [whoever they will prove to be] will win the top prize regardless of where the competition is being held. ‘Home advantage’ is but a crumb of comfort intended to bolster the doubters who are sceptical about England’s chances. There is nonsense being spouted about how England will unquestionably prevail against Australia and Wales because they are ‘at home’. Have Australia and Wales never managed to win at Twickenham? Oh this ‘England expects’ bull is tedious.
The time has long since passed where the good citizens of L’Angleterre must re-adjust their expectations about their cricket, football, and rugger representatives. England simply doesn’t excel at team sports any more. They are operating on an increasingly congested playing field where more and more nations [playing catch-up from their more recent starts] are now challenging England at the major sports. Furthermore, if one observed a roll-call of the most successful sportsmen in Britain from the last few years, namely Farah, Foy, Hamilton, McCoy, McDowell, McIlroy, Murray, O’Sullivan, Rose, and Wiggins, half of them aren’t even English!
On behalf of the rest of le monde, I beseech my native countrymen and women, and above all the excitable media, to inject themselves with a much-needed shot of reality. England have the potential to win the next rugby union World Cup, but that could be said of half a dozen other contenders. If England do triumph in the autumn, it will be in spite of the home comforts of ‘home advantage’ and not because of it. Similarly, England will eventually win the gold medal at the Six Nations tournament too, but it is foolish to suggest that second place is “unacceptable” and that grand slams ought to be accumulated on a regular basis. Such pompous outpourings only serve to motivate les autres, resulting in further heartbreak for the English contingent. A bit of humility and a sense of perspective might be a more prudent way forward on the route to glory.