- 19 Oct 07, 10:58 AM
Swansea - After defying their doubters once again, and yes my hands are held up, England could pull off one of the most amazing sporting achievements in living memory when they contest the World Cup final on Saturday.
That they will face South Africa in that game is an ironic twist of fate considering the events of the group game between the sides.
And should they manage to overturn the gulf in class evident on that day just over a month ago, it really would complete a comeback of such magnitude that it would sit comfortably in a list of the greatest of all-time, next to Liverpool’s, Take That’s or Lazarus’!
The semi-final with France never really caught fire, largely because England didn’t allow it to.
They executed a game-plan faultlessly for the second game running and showed how self-belief, solid defensive structure and do-or-die attitude to winning, can produce results.
Once again they moved from set-piece to set piece, all the while putting the squeeze on the French pack and in between scavenged and foraged at the breakdown which didn’t allow France the opportunity to build a tempo.
Having said that, I do believe that France shot themselves in the foot by persevering with Beauxis at fly-half as the limitations to his all round game, compared to that of Michalak, played into England’s hands.
Surely if they could have opened the game up early on and produced some of the rugby they showed in the latter stages against the All Blacks then they would have piled the pressure on England.
But instead it was England who got a flyer and Lewsey’s early score allowed them to settle into the game and gave them the impetus to go on and grab the result.
The rest of us can learn so much from their backs-to-the-wall revival, and also maybe the policy of selecting the players and employing tactics (which are arguably negative) to achieve success at a given moment in time and against a specific opposition.
If the likes of Wales, New Zealand or France employed the same attitude there would likely be a public outcry due to the style of game with which the fans are historically used to seeing from their team.
As far as Wales are concerned, it’s us players too who have championed the Welsh way and after showing that it can be successful in the Grand Slam of 2005, the boys are now desperate to show that it still can be.
Not to heed the lessons that this tournament has offered would be entirely ignorant though, and with the way the laws stand today and after England’s demonstration in the knock-out phases of how they can be made to work for you - we should take note.
That’s tough for me to admit, being something of a rugby romanticist, but it’s very hard to argue with W’s in the results column.
I’ve a feeling the reservations of the Welsh fans, the Kiwi fans and the French fans alike may be tempered by a World Cup final spot.
Balance is the key though and as far as Wales are concerned, I’m sure we will continue to look for that perfect blend of solidarity and flair when the new coach is installed, whoever he may be.
The South Africans, meanwhile, booked their final place with, what turned out to be, a comfortable win over Argentina.
Their task was made considerably easier by the two interception tries they scored as both came at key times and stunted the momentum that the Argentines were building.
It was clear that Argentina were not going to leave that stadium wondering "what if" and they took the game to the Springboks from the outset, picking angles and off-loading at will.
But as they have done throughout the tournament, the South Africans just slipped into another gear at key moments and without ever setting the place alight never really looked like losing. Having said that, the score did not really reflect the overall game.
England can take heart, especially from the fact that Argentina got a lot of change at the breakdown during the game - an area in which England have excelled during this tournament.
I remember noting in a previous blog that this competition would be won and lost at the breakdown and that could very well prove to be the case.
In turn, the South African’s will no doubt target Jonny Wilkinson and it is vital that he stands up to the challenge of his abrasive opponents. There is no doubt he will, as bottle is something Jonny has in plentiful supply. If his game holds together meaning the South Africans cannot get to him in the way that they’ll plan to, then he can be the key.
Finals gone by have been decided by the narrowest margins and with a strong defence, an accurate goal-kicker and maybe most importantly, a core of players who’ve done it before, you may be inclined to fancy England.
After opting against them throughout the tournament though, I do not want to tempt fate by pinning my colours to their mast. I’ll just say I think it will be very tight and the winner will be the team who can hold their nerve and close out the game best in the last quarter.
The good news for England fans is I think that will turn out to be South Africa. That should ensure it is Phil Vickery who will be holding the cup aloft come 10 o’clock on Saturday!
Ryan Jones plays number eight for Wales but misses the World Cup through injury.