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Groyne Strain

Oct 24, 2003
The Crane
So here we are, the final twist of the most amazing rollercoaster ride that has been the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

England - your England, my England, everybody's England - have been knocked from pillar to post, criticised, attacked, pilloried, derided, laughed at written off from all quarters. But guess what, World? We know how to win.

My belief in the men wearing the red rose is well documented. That is immaterial, as was everybody else's disbelief. Brian Ashton believes. Phil Vickery believes. Jonny, Robbo, right down through to the guy that collects the towels from the gym after training, they all believe. And now the rugby world stares on in a different kind of disbelief altogether.

Of course, South Africa are a truly great team, their best in living memory. They have a back line that can terrify a cheetah, their forwards will also be competitive with the talismanic Os Du Randt, and their half-backs simply do the right things at the right time. They are worthy of their final place and their tag as favourites.

There are some things, however, some indescribable intangibles, that defy description and of which is out of everyone's hands. England-USA was laughably poor, a desperate, reckless and dreadful trip by captain Phil Vickery preventing the ignominy and shame of probable defeat, barely papering over as inept a display as you've ever seen. Then along comes the night of desolation and humiliation in Paris. 7-0, 10-0, 17-0, 20 ... I lost count. South Africa declare at 36-0 barely breaking sweat. It was the lowest of the low.

36-0, 36 days on and it's the Final .... Jonny Wilkinson, a pale shadow of 2001-2003, injured again, and off-form even during the games he's played. Yet, somehow, he's won the matches for England. How? Nobody really knows. Jason Robinson, retired, disillusioned with the sport, going through the motions in his last year, yet suddenly becomes the best full-back on the planet again. Andrew Sheridan, a natural second-row player, from nowhere produces the finest loose prop performance there has ever been from anyone. How do you explain it?

You can't. All we know is that England know to win. Against any odds, against any team, at any place, at any time. Perhaps they should be sponsored by Martini. England believe. The rest of the world now fears.

It was a good night yesterday evening in my local rugby club, although I tend to view a 4am finish as a good morning as well. One of the lads, an exiled Kiwi, wryly commented "Jeez, you've got no ability outside 2 or 3 players, but boy have you got guts." Craig, a long-haired craggy Glasweigan admitted "I hate you batsards but you can't help not wanting you to win when you play like that. An' I fcuking hate mysel' for it! The Welsh contingent, so long the mocking red rag to the wounded English bull, are even backing us. Eifion's view? "You've got something that everyone loves, something above that never-say-die spirit and sheer will to win. Fcuk Simon fcuking Cowell, you've got that X-Factor. Just go and fcuking win it."

It was amusing this morning to hear a Bokkie point of view. "England have no right to be in the Final", moaned one Yarpie, "They've had one good week in 4 years." Conveniently forgetting that the whole point of the intervening 4 years was to have your good week. "You've got good forwards but no backline" opined another." Apart from Jonny. Only the most influential player on the planet. Jason Robinson, inspired by implacable belief and regular worship to God, isn't bad too. Methink they doth protest .....

It's with that tidal wave of goodwill and sheer grit, determination, to hang on in there when all hope has gone within the team, that England have come to the party with this weekend and made it the most amazing, the best World Cup there's been so far. We can be justly proud of every single player wearing that red rose tomorrow evening whatever happens.

For the team, however, being there is not enough. History beckons. The only team ever to beat Australia on European soil in a World Cup. The only team ever to reach a Final having lost a group match. The only team to get there having not topped their group. And, yes, 36 days after a 36-0 defeat against their opponents. Logic says South Africa. Form says South Africa. Fate, however, and feeling says England. This is our day, this is our time. We are England, we are proud, we are true.

We will win.