The angel in Revelations chapter eighteen, verse two triumphantly proclaims that “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!” After sharing in the worldwide rejoicing at England’s deserved demise, I know how he feels. Even after getting mugged by Wales, England were still second favourites to win the World Cup! What is more, that great pundit Danny Cipriani suggested that not one of the Australia team would be worthy of a place in the England XV. You have to hand it to England rugby team and its followers: when it comes to blind confidence and naïve optimism, then they are world leaders.
Of course, dynamic Australia, like dogged Wales before them, simply ignored the script and had the sheer audacity to win at Twickers in the very heart of Blighty. As a result, England, the team that simply couldn’t lose and who were destined to attain greatness, have become the first of the Six Nations to be eliminated from the World Cup. Well at least they have achieved a first at something!
Now the knee-jerk reactions from the crestfallen ‘believers’ are in full swing. Aside from the customary and quite justified scapegoating of the team management (or mismanagement to be precise), voices of discontent have scoffed at some of the apparently bewildering selections. However, rugby teams, for some peculiar reason, are chosen a few days in advance. I don’t recall too many people throwing rotten tomatoes when the England teams were announced for the last two matches. The experts and supporters had two or three full days to criticise the choice of centres and fly half. Instead they just irrationally believe in victory. Then when the triumph doesn’t materialise, the armchair critics and assorted experts are suddenly wise after the event and bemoan the selections.
The England RFU has promised an in-depth coroner’s inquest and potential changes. However if they stubbornly impersonate King Canute and persist with their exclusion of Englishmen playing in France and any other foreign league, then presumably the post-World Cup dispensation will be no more than cosmetics and a reshuffle of the coaches. It is unlikely that the England RFU will concede wholesale changes, as changes would be an admission that they have made mistakes. Men in suits won’t have the humility to accept their share of the blame. Instead Stuart Lancaster and Andy Farrell (their appointments) will be expected to walk the plank.
Meanwhile, England will no doubt be installed as favourites for the forthcoming 2016 Six Nations, regardless of what the other European teams achieve in the remainder of the World Cup, and irrespective of the fact that England have not won a grand slam since 2003. Is it any wonder that the neighbours all celebrate England’s humiliation when the other competitors in the Six Nations are consistently insulted and written off as less likely to win the tournament than over-rated England? After all, nothing motivates les autres more than being disrespectfully dismissed as potential also-rans while England are foolishly held up as superior human beings. England and its media never seem to learn that the folly of talking up your own chances only serves to galvanise the opposition, and surely stupid Cipriani’s comments were completely counter-productive.
Bullish John Bull never learns. England will no doubt return to winning ways in the autumn internationals of the next few years against some southern hemisphere giants, who will field experimental line-ups out of season, thereby giving rise to renewed optimism about imminent England greatness, followed by more under-achievement at the next World Cup, and then repeat ad nauseam.
England’s media, pundits, supporters, and team are just deluded in the extreme. When they give the minnows of Uruguay a serious thrashing this Saturday, we will be told that “if only they had played like that against Australia (and Wales).” Yes slow learners, but Uruguay are not in the same league as the aforementioned teams, and any anticipated resounding triumph against them needs to be viewed in proper perspective. Even Luis Suarez could nearly make the Uruguay rugby team. (He would provide some pace and bite to the attack.) Unfortunately, for big mighty England, they and their followers tend to flee from reality when they get one or two wins under their belt.
Watching England fall short of their customary and traditional high expectations has been nothing short of a pleasure. The English cannot help themselves. It’s like a disease. Even when they get trounced, the Ciprianis of this world predictably state that their conquerors look like certain World Cup winners. It seems that any team that can muster the Herculean strength to defeat the big public schoolboys must be truly cosmic. They really do believe in their own hype. ‘We are so good that anyone who beats us must be superhuman’. Laughable!
What is all the more amusing, even for this native-born Englishman, is that the group fixtures were manipulated and tailored to give England every possible chance to qualify for the last eight. Blighty not only had home advantage (which I have argued for some time is way over-rated) but the host nation had greater recovery time between contests than was afforded Australia and Wales. [See table underneath.] Also, while Australia and Wales would battle it out on Saturday afternoon, England, it was hoped, would know precisely how many points that they needed to post on the scoreboard in their subsequent tussle with mediocre Uruguay. Talk about loading the odds in your favour! Even the corrupt FIFA would ensure that the final pool fixtures in the soccer World Cup all kicked off simultaneously. Poor England. They had everything in their favour and still succeeded in shooting themselves in the foot.
As Jimmy Cliff previously sang: “The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all.”
RECOVERY TIME BETWEEN MATCHES, FOR EACH GROUP:
England 22 days
Uruguay 20 days
Wales 20 days
Fiji 18 days
Australia 17 days
Japan 22 days
USA 21 days
Samoa 20 days
South Africa 18 days
Scotland 17 days
Argentina 21 days
Tonga 20 days
New Zealand 19 days
Georgia 18 days
Namibia 17 days
France 22 days
Ireland 22 days
Italy 22 days
Romania 18 days
Canada 17 days