Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Bridge too Far for Ashton's Army

Well, there's no shame in being beaten by the best. Despite tearing up the form book, the play book and any other book you care to mention, England's oak-strong World Cup challenge was finally neutralised by a clinical Springbok team, who adopted their opponent's tactics in closing out a second world title.

On the day (or evening, rather), there can be few complaints from Brian Ashton and his team, after vastly-overachieving in the tournament's final equation. Had South Africa blown the English away, it would have provided a bitter after-taste to the deposed champion's sweet run to the final; but the two teams tussled competitively, and it's no disservice to the Boks to say it could have gone either way.

The Cueto 'try' call was of course crucial. The extra points would have almost certainly allowed England to mount a more credible challenge during the game's dying moments, and the boot of Monsieur Jonny may well have become the deciding factor once again. Although I'm of the mind that the attacking team should benefit when there is such an element of doubt for the TMO to take into account, probably, just about, on balance, extremely grudgingly, Stuart Dickinson - probably - got it right.

Allain Rolland's 'crossing' decision - a far worse call - some 15 minutes later, effectively ended it for Phil Vickery and co. Despite allowing an almost identical incident involving Bryan Habana to pass unnoticed, Rolland decided that Cueto had used Ben Kay to obstruct the South African tacklers, allowing a different boot, this time belonging to tyro Francois Steyn, to put England's chances to bed. The decision didn't look hugely significant at the time, but had England been awarded a similar penalty beforehand then the difference would probably have been reduced to three points again. Ah, for ifs and buts...

South Africa were my own tip from the start, and they've played the most consistently well since touching down in France. But England have salvaged a lot from their increasingly durable performances, and should now set about getting their house in order so that the post-World Cup blues does not strike twice.

Although I thought the grinding, forwards-based style of play championed by England in '03 was as dated as Martin Corry's haircut, it prevailed again; but invention with the ball in hand must be added to satisfy onlookers and ensure that the team is not simply outmuscled in future. If the blend can be perfected, there may be fewer surprises next time they get the Web-Ellis out of its cupboard...

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Anonymous Madra said...

People should read this.

2:10 AM, November 11, 2008  

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