Well, as Samizdata’s token Australian, I guess it is my job to do a little bit of cheering from the point of view of England’s opponents in the final of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday. Like Brian, I have also been writing about the tournament on ubersportingpundit, but if he is going to bring it here and the commenters are all then going to complain about Australians I might as well use my God like Samizdatista powers too.
For in the other semi-final on the weekend, Australia versus New Zealand, the Australian side that have looked second rate all year suddenly came good, and played superbly to beat New Zealand. Sydney is getting excited. The final is Australia v England, a great grudge match.
Which leaves me with two things to discuss. The grudge, and the match. First, the match. Very well as Australia played on Saturday (and they really were terrific) I think that if they play equally well and in the same way in the final, they will very likely lose. Why do I think this? Well, Australia won the game by going on the attack in the first half, getting a lead, and then defending ferociously as New Zealand attempted to score tries in the second half. At half time I was quite disappointed that Australia had not scored more than one try given the amount of possession they had had. Australia have the best defence of any side in the tournament, but I wasn’t sure that they could hold New Zealand out for the second half. But as it happened, the defence was even better than I expected, and they did hold New Zealand out for the second half.
However, if Australia get an early lead of a few points and try the same strategy against England, and find themselves defending against England in the second half, it just won’t work. Every time Australia concede a penalty, Jonny Wilkinson will kick the ball over the crossbar for three points. If Australia don’t concede penalties (and in Rugby this is very difficult for prolongued periods), Wilkinson will start kicking drop goals. England won’t score tries, but they will score enough points to win just the same. (They didn’t score any tries against France, but won comfortably).
The more I think about it like this, the more I think England will win the game. The Australian team and coach must be thinking the same way. Therefore, I think they will not play with quite the same strategy they did against New Zealand. To win, Australia is going to have to score more tries, hopefully in the first half, than they did against New Zealand. While only scoring one try from lots of possession in the first half was okay against New Zealand, it will not be against England. Look for Australia to come out, and hit England’s defences extremely hard in the first half hour. If they can break the defence, and score two or three tries, Australia will likely win. If not, England will.
Secondly, the grudge.
I have a copy of today’s Times in front of me. On the front, I see a picture of a sheep, with the words “The bleating Aussies”, and a suggesting that readers turn to the sports section. When I do actually turn to the sports section. Upon doing so, I find “England bored by the sniping but buoyed by the challenge” on page 42, followed by an article discussing how “ill informed” Australian sports jounalists are criticising England for playing “boring rugby” and generally bashing the English team. On page 43, 42, and 37, I find much the same thing. (“Whingers of Oz keep myth alive and kicking” is particularly good). In all the other newspapers I find much the same thing. In the comments of Brian’s article here on Samizdata I find much the same.
Which is odd. Because there hasn’t actually been very much Pom bashing going on in Australia. Oh, certainly there has been some. Ribbing the English is always fun, so some people do it just for the sake of it. And of course, England play very effective rugby, and criticising it as “boring” in an attempt to get them to change their style is always worth a try. (It worked in 1991, but it won’t work here. England are far too professional this year). But Pom bashing hasn’t and isn’t the focus of Australian attention on the World Cup. It’s been way down the scale. Prior to the semi-final, Australians were far too busy writing off their own team’s chances to really focus on it, and they are still too busy enjoying the semi-final victory over New Zealand to do too much of it this week. (In Rugby, beating New Zealand is generally a bigger deal than beating England anyway). However, the English press seems utterly obsessed with it, to the extent that there is far more whinging about Australian whinging in the English press than there is actual whinging going on in Australia. I don’t know quite why? Perhaps the English are so traumatised by losing to Australia at everything for a decade that they see it even when it isn’t really there. However, having been reading the Australian press throughout the cup, and having spent a couple of weeks of the World Cup actually in Australia, all I can say is that what I have read in the English press is entirely different to what I have read and seen actually in Australia. All I can conclude is that the English press are seeing what they want to. If England win, it will be much more enjoyable if they can believe that Australia lost with bad grace.
However, given that there is more complaining about Australians going on than actual rugby coverage, I can only conclude that the English media are at this point completely rattled. And although this is enjoyable, it doesn’t actually matter much. Because as Brian has said repeatedly, this English team is very well led and coached, and is by far the most professional team that England has ever had. And I don’t believe that anything in the Australian or English press is going to affect this. If Australia are going to beat England, they are going to have to simply play great rugby. Hopefully they will. More likely though, England will win. And if they do, we Australians will mostly congratulate England on a good job, still feel reasonably okay because Australia did far better in the tournament than we expected to, and console ourselves by laughing at the England cricket team.