- 1 Oct 07, 04:09 PM
Thank God for John O'Neill.
If the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union hadn’t put it so succinctly, we would never have known. "It doesn't matter whether it's cricket, rugby union, rugby league – we all hate England,"
As a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, it’s one of which Basil Fawlty would be proud.
In recent times Ronan O’Gara and Imanol Harinordoquy, among a whole host of others, have uttered similar sentiments.
Crowds at England’s last two matches, at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes and the Parc des Princes in Paris, have backed up the theory put forward by head coach Brian Ashton that there won’t be any neutrals at England’s matches.
In fact, several supporters were seen at the Parc wearing T-shirts proclaiming their affiliation to the Gwent branch of the Tongan Supporters Club.
So what, in the build-up to this Saturday’s quarter-final against the Wallabies, is an Englishman to do?
Perhaps, given the bizarre modern demand for public apologies for things that happened hundreds of years ago, we should say we are sorry that some of our ancestors sent some of their ancestors - most of them criminals - to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world?
Perhaps we should be flippant, and trot out the old Flanders and Swann lyric;
“The English, the English, the English are best. I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest”
Perhaps we should fight cliché with cliché. An extraordinary anti-England article in an Australian newspaper during the last World Cup stereotyped all Englishmen as blue-blazered, bowler-hatted, old school tie-wearing, gin-swilling public school toffs.
That’s about as true as suggesting all Aussies are either called Bruce or Sheila, wear corks dangling from their hats, and spend their days either surfing or lazing around on the beach, tossing prawns onto the “barbie” and swilling vast quantities of undrinkable ice-cold lager.
Perhaps we should regurgitate the old joke about the legendary reply by an Englishman when asked by arrivals at Sydney Airport whether he had a criminal record: ”I didn’t know it was compulsory”.
Perhaps we should have a go back; former England coach Clive Woodward could never resist a retort whenever one of his Australian counterpart Eddie Jones’ digs was reported by the media.
It made for great copy, which is why John O’Neill’s comments have been so eagerly seized on by the press and will be used by the England camp as motivation - as if any were needed ahead of Saturday’s showdown in Marseille.
Complain about the insults, you’re a whingeing pom. Rise above them, you’re an arrogant pom. Whatever you do, you’re a pommy so-and-so.
But as Martin Johnson and his men discovered in Australia four years ago, it’s infinitely better to be a winning pom than a whingeing one.
The Aussie papers, on the Monday morning after that World Cup Final victory, issued an apology for all the "Dad's Army", “boring”, “is that all you’ve got “ insults they had dished up all tournament, and acknowledged that the Wallabies had been beaten by a better side.
Reading that, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Australians were actually generous, tolerant, unchauvinist, sportsmanlike and discerning.
As I say, thank God for John O’Neill.
Alastair Hignell is a former England rugby international who commentates on rugby union for Radio 5 Live. He is covering England at the World Cup. 5 Live's full broadcast schedule is here.