There's cause for concern for rugby's decision-makers
October 23, 2007
"This is rugby's world showcase and in the knockout stages it was power and persistence that mattered much more than attacking flair." John Taylor reports
It was a World Cup that promised everything but, finally, failed to deliver. After some wonderful rugby from the minnows, the emergence of Argentina as genuine contenders and upsets galore all we needed was a truly memorable final to make the French Fete complete.
Sadly, the final course did not live up to the rest of the meal. South Africa won at a canter, taking control early on through English mistakes and playing the percentages thereafter.
They took the Webb Ellis trophy for the second time, uniquely failing to score a try in either final - not a great advertisement for the beautiful game we know rugby can be but they won't be worrying about that as they parade the cup around South Africa this week.
Nevertheless, it should be cause for concern to the International Rugby Board as they consider law changes because this is rugby's world showcase and in the knockout stages it was power and persistence that mattered much more than attacking flair.
Matthew Tait's wonderful burst at the start of the second half was the only clean break of the match. If only England had been able to finish it off the outcome might just have been different.
But, like everything else on the night, it was not to be and instead of lighting the blue touch paper the match continued to splutter like a damp squib.
By the way - Stuart Dickinson was definitely right. However much the the hysterical tabloids tried to insinuate that the Australian video referee had deliberately sabotaged England the freeze frame footage that eventually emerged from French television proved he was absolutely correct.
If Mark Cueto had scored and Jonny had converted England would have had their noses in front and that might have given them the inspiration they lacked - if, if, if.
Back to reality - despite all the words afterwards about pride in performance, England were pretty disappointing. They were dogged and determined but it takes more than that to win a World Cup as they knew full well from 2003.
In key areas they failed to front-up in the same way as they had against Australia and in particular against France.
I expected more from them in the set pieces, especially with Alain Rolland refereeing. South Africa were never going to buckle like Australia but you sensed right from the start that there was not the same sense of commitment to the scrum. It was almost as if they felt there was no real chance of a worthwhile advantage and settled for parity.
I think that was a major mistake. They should have gone for domination - I just wonder how much and for how long the injury that eventually forced Phil Vickery off at half-time reduced his effectiveness and prevented an all-out assault.
In contrast South Africa knew they should have an edge in the line-outs and went for England's jugular from the start. I believe they deliberately targeted those first two line-outs knowing that any seeds of doubt sown at that stage would pay huge dividends in the psychological battle that is all important in a tight game.
Victor Matfield is undoubtedly a class act but Simon Shaw and Ben Kay are no mugs and with the laws as they are the side throwing in has a huge advantage so there can be no excuses. It was either down to poor throwing from Mark Regan or poor planning by the coaches. Either way South Africa had a crucial advantage after just five minutes and had taken seven of England's throws by end - a hammering.
England hardly tried to attack them on their throw - again a major error.
Add in a few more missed tackles than in the previous two games - Mike Catt, in particular, seldom brought his man down without a little help from his friends - and England were definitely on the back foot. They were seldom in danger of being breached but never in control.
Even then England might just have sneaked it in an extra-time nail biter if they had not been so profligate. What Tait was thinking when he elected to cut back and try to go himself from inside his own 22 in the first five minutes we shall never know.
We do know he slipped and gave Percy Montgomery exactly the sort of nerve settling opportunity every kicker would pray for in the first ten minutes.
Lewis Moody looked much more disciplined against Australia and France and you hoped wise words from Brian Ashton had finally prevailed but the old rush of blood was suddenly back as he tripped Butch James after the fly-half had kicked high and long giving Montgomery an un-missable kick in front of the posts.
So after 15 minutes South Africa had created nothing yet found themselves 6-0 up and cruising. And so it went on with the Springboks being gifted soft scores every time England got back into contention.
A very bad day at the office - made worse because they had looked so strong and secure in the previous couple of matches.
South Africa answered every challenge and are therefore worthy champions but they won without playing New Zealand, France or Australia and were never really tested - all in all a weird World Cup.