Pride and passion prove priceless elements
October 8, 2007
"For all the talk about rugby being a religion in New Zealand they are not a very passionate people and when it comes to winning world cups that might just be the vital missing ingredient." John Taylor reports
So, sensational Saturday gave way to a more sensible Sunday with the two favourites making it through to the semi-finals.
But what a turn-up! Until Saturday I was convinced we were looking at an all southern hemisphere last four. Before the tournament started I flagged up the real possibility of Ireland going out in the Pool stage and no northern hemisphere involvement after the quarters. When Wales bombed out to Fiji I thought it was going to be even worse but England and France rediscovered their pride and passion and I am delighted to have been proved wrong.
It just shows that nothing can replace those two essential qualities in sport. You can prepare and plan down to the last detail but it all means nothing if you do not have the belief and willpower. Then, sometimes, you can achieve what seems impossible. It's what makes sport wonderful.
England always had a chance against Australia because they had such a superior front-row. The problem was that they had been playing so badly for so long I could not see how they could unscramble their troubled brains and play the simple power game required.
There appeared to be no inspiration within the squad. So where did they find this new hunger?
Perhaps it was Australian Rugby Union CEO, John O'Neill's, stupid, vicious pommy bashing or maybe it was just that realisation that they could not relinquish their title in such a feeble fashion.
Martin Corry seemed to indicate it was a combination of both - 'We were just not ready to go home,' was his take on it. 'It wasn't just that we owed fans and others a performance, we also owed ourselves a performance. We'd put so much into the preparation that we couldn't face leaving with a splutter. All that adversity, too, all that knocking brings you together.'
Whatever, they went from being soulless pre-programmed rugby automatons to scrapping as if their lives depended on it.
Of course it all stemmed from the demolition of the Wallabies scrum.
Referee, Alain Rolland, wobbled at the start giving a couple of penalties to the Wallabies when it was obvious they were in trouble but he soon sussed that Guy Shepherdson was deliberately not trying to compete with the mighty Andrew Sheridan thus causing the frequent collapses and Australia's front row inadequacies were cruelly exposed.
If Andre Watson had not been conned four years ago England's world cup win would have been far more straightforward.
But it was not just the scrum. England also attacked the breakdown so ferociously that they turned over Australian ball 9 times - more than they achieved in all their pool games put together.
Indeed, failure to achieve turnovers appeared to be the northern hemisphere malaise in the pool stages. Whilst Argentines, south sea islanders, Georgians and even the Portuguese stole possession the hapless Brits and French were constantly driven off the ball or penalised after being isolated.
Suddenly, with Nick Easter, Lewis Moody and Sheridan usually in the van, England rediscovered the aggression needed to make it possible.
If England's resurrection was a revelation France's was close to a miracle. All the French journalists were putting on a brave face but not one of them really believed their team could beat New Zealand. They were bracing themselves for the unthinkable, that the host nation were going to bow out of their own tournament on a lonely foreign field.
Unlike Australia the favourites appeared to have no real Achilles heel to attack. There was a perceived lack of strength in the line-out but nothing serious and with 300 points plus in the pool stage they were cruising.
In hindsight that was the problem. Everything had been too easy and when they were suddenly in a real battle they could not handle it.
It seemed as if the French were playing into their hands when they eased into a 13-0 lead before half-time. The territorial kicking game Bernard Laporte had decided upon was not creating any pressure and you wondered where France's points were going to come from.
All that changed with the sin-binning of Luke McAlister. Now France had to run to take advantage of the extra man and when Thierry Dusautoir's converted try levelled the scores once again it came down to who wanted to win most.
Sure, France had a stroke of luck - the pass to Frederick Michalak, who then, brilliantly, set up the try for Yannick Jauzion, was forward - but then it came down to passion and French hearts beat stronger.
For all the talk about rugby being a religion in New Zealand they are not a very passionate people - solid, hardworking, committed, reliable and with plenty of pride - but passion? That's slightly different - they don't really do passion and when it comes to winning world cups that might just be the vital missing ingredient.