- 2 Oct 07, 04:25 PM
A slight murmur went up when I asked George Smith if he agreed with Australia Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill’s comments that all of his countrymen “hate England”.
But George just smiled and flicked away my question as if it was nothing more troublesome than a clumsy, fat fly. Meanwhile, Matt Giteau and Al Baxter smirked like naughty schoolboys beside him.
Giteau, Australia’s impish centre, admitted Jonny Wilkinson’s presence in the England line-up for Saturday’s quarter-final would make a difference.
But asked whether he feared the England talisman, last seen against Australia dropping the goal that won the 2003 final, Giteau shrugged nonchalantly and curled his lip before shooting back: “No, not really.”
Loafing about the hotel lobby in shorts and flip-flops, the Wallabies looked more like a gang of lads from Warrington getting ready to rip up Tenerife than a crack rugby outfit contemplating one of the biggest games of their careers.
In light of O’Neill’s comments, I had half expected to have my head shoved down the dunny by an irate prop forward, but, let’s face it, I know enough Australians to realise they’re a pretty spot-on bunch, almost all of the time.
From the Old Port I dashed over to the Stade Velodrome to catch the end of England’s presser, losing about two stone in sweat en route.
I’m not sure wheeling Dallaglio out for news conferences ahead of a game he’s unlikely to start sends out the most positive message from an England perspective.
Yes, he’s a World Cup winner and deserves the utmost respect, but where are the rest of the generals in Brian Ashton’s squad?
Marseille, as Tommy has already informed you, is rip-roaringly hot and ready to take light this weekend. If you haven’t already made plans to be here, start making them.
England may well get a damn good spanking on Saturday afternoon, but the Old Port looks at its beguiling best and I’m going to stick my neck out and say it even loves a loser.
Ben Dirs is a BBC Sport journalist travelling around France in a camper van with Tom Fordyce. Click here to search for all of Tom and Ben's blog videos.