and the final.
The worst part of the Rugby World Cup final probably wasn’t the loss, nor the way England didn’t turn up but that they proved the odious Gatland right in playing their best a week before.
England got a bit of stick for their opening game in the Rugby World Cup, against Tonga, all those weeks before. But nobody seemed to stand back and say that you don’t want to be peaking for the first group game, you want to be building up to it. There’s three more group games then a possible three knock out games. Peak now and you’re just heading downwards.
England grew into the tournament until they unfortunately peaked for the semi-final where they comprehensibly took New Zealand apart.
Everything that went right in the semi-final went wrong in the final. From the first minute, when Lawes gave away a penalty after a quick blast from the ref. Pollard may have missed that opening, easy, kick, but it was something England hadn’t done in the semi, give NZ easy chances. No kickable penalties in the England half were conceded.
That first whistle though should another thing they were up against. The ref. Shortly after he’d pinged Lawes for not rolling away, when he probably couldn’t and hadn’t exactly been given much time, South Africa had a rolling maul the ball carrier Etzebeth rolled off and was scragged by Itoje. Hanging onto the ball on the ground, while Itoje was on his feet trying to get it back the ref didn’t penalise Etzebeth.
Before that the second big thing hit England that hadn’t previously. Injury on the field to a key player. Sinckler, who had been a little beast throughout, was caught in a tackle by Itoje’s elbow and knocked sparko. A huge loss just three minutes in as it meant Dan Cole would be playing nearly the full game. Shortly after the first scrum highlighted what a disaster this turned out to be. The ref pinged Cole and continued to do so throughout, even when it was the opposition that infringed. SA pop up first… whistle… penalty to SA.
Everything you need to know about the ref was summed up by him at the presentation ceremony when he acted like the crowd was there specifically to see him. Kissing the medal and raising it above his head. Beyond pathetic.
England lost the ’91 final to Australia. Twelve years later they beat Australia in the final. They lost the following final, 2007, to South Africa. Twelve years later they didn’t get their revenge. It was a final that turned out much the same. SA kicked a lot of penalties and had a bit of help from the officials.
They didn’t need that help, England were helping them out as much as they could. Said before Eddie Jones picking Youngs and Ford would be his downfall. Yes they managed to perform against NZ, when England’s forwards got on top but as soon as they were under pressure the pair crumbled. The amount they talked up Ford was unbelievable. Apparently he was great coming on against Australia, when England were well ahead and on top. Here he did his usual flounce about with some god awful kicks.
Jones would have been better approaching this game like he did against Australia in the quarter-final. SA more like Oz than NZ.
Youngs. A slow thing that’s been slowed down. When you’re struggling the last thing you need is a scrum-half that takes an age to get to the breakdown, an age to put his hand on the ball and an age to shift the ball out when he finally decides to do something. Then doesn’t actually know what to do with it so just throws it anywhere. If I never see another useless Youngs’ box kick, I’ll be quite happy. It’s a shame Heinz was injured, though he was never going to get a start in this game. His game is just so much quicker, in all aspects. Jones obviously didn’t trust that his replacement, Spencer, was up to it after travelling or he would surely have come on earlier than the 75th minute.
Youngs is like the replacement SH for Japan. Against Scotland Japan zoomed ahead because Nagare didn’t give them a seconds rest. He was in at the ruck before anyone the ball was in his hands and away before Scotland knew a ruck had formed. The coach then replaced him not long after the beginning of the second half and the replacement was so slow that Scotland started to counter ruck and they almost got back into it.
This really was a lost opportunity. SA were not going to be as bad as they were against the dull Welsh in the dullest game in Dullerdom. England weren’t going to be as good as they were against NZ. But this shouldn’t have ended up a 20 point victory.