Nothing has ever quite summed up the arrogance of England rugby, England in team sport, and the English media more than the absurd decision to wave away the opportunity of a face-saving draw against Wales by slotting home a late penalty kick. Instead, Chris Robshaw took leave of his senses (assuming that he has many in his possession) and opted for a ludicrous kick to touch in the vain hope of a last-ditch try.
This was absurd because Wales had absorbed England pressure for 75 minutes and conceded only one well-worked try. Therefore, there was no compelling evidence that the Welsh were likely to cave in to any anticipated late onslaught. This after all was not a repeat of the England-France try bonanza from March, but instead a war of attrition, decided in favour of the team that were penalized for making the least mistakes. Chris Robshaw is entitled to be ambitious and maybe even cavalier – but there is a time and a place for such attitudes. In an epic cliffhanger against a resilient Wales, any notion that England could and would deliver a Roy Of The Rovers last-minute try was fanciful. Instead, England needed to play the percentages, allow the highly capable Owen Farrell to pull the scores level, and with Wales likely to kick the resulting dropout into English hands, there was a small chance that England could use their eleventh-hour possession to advance forward and score again, possibly from a drop goal.
The trouble with Robshaw was that he was a victim, poor thing, of ‘England expects’. For the last few years, all experts and former players (clearly very good at playing rugby but not always so cosmic at talking a good game) were all predicting a home win, based on ‘home advantage’. This was nonsense, not least because there is scarcely a country in the universe that hasn’t won more times in London than Wales. So much for home advantage. Furthermore, England deservedly won the World Cup of 2003 without home advantage and failed to win in 1991 with home advantage. Home advantage is way overrated and what is more, the burden of expectation on home nations must be sheer unbearable.
In fact, England’s chances had been talked up so much, that aside from motivating the Welsh when their chances were being insultingly written off, that a draw was clearly seen as tantamount to a defeat. Robshaw should have realized that a draw was honours even and allowed his troops to escape with a share of group points and still a fine chance to qualify. Now they must bail themselves out of the abyss with a win against the Wallabies – no mean task. Naturally Jeremy Guscott is again talking up his country’s chances. Sorry Jerry old chap, but England do not look like the best team in the world, and although a transformation can take place, it will be a minor miracle if England proceed to the final – as everyone in Blighty had mistakenly assumed.
It is time that the expectant media assumed nothing and stopped deluding themselves about the greatness of their teams. Team sport is no longer an area where Britannia rules the waves. It is excellence in individual pursuits that the Brits now display on the world stage. We can produce winners such as Lewis Hamilton, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Chris Foy, Rory McIlroy, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Justin Rose, but through sheer weight of numbers, we do not have the personnel to match the manpower of other nations in most team sports. Gone are the good old days when the Brits were in the ascendancy in team sports. ‘England expects’ is just a load of old bull, John Bull. England are good, but they are not exceptionally good. They proved themselves no better than Wales, and had they possessed the humility to accept that a draw was a good result, they could have escaped with a share of the spoils. Unfortunately, when they speak only of victory and the mysterious wonders of home advantage, then this is a recipe for a crazy decision by the captain.
Congratulations to a depleted but plucky Wales. They mugged an arrogant England with a Biggar second-half performance, while the host nation deservedly got its comeuppance.