Ben Dirs

Better a Thinker than a Blessed... (24)

Paris – Friday - Different players find different ways of preparing for a big match.

Some smash their heads repeatedly against the changing room wall, some insist on grabbing team-mates by the collars and bawling in their faces. Some, usually the backs, prefer to sit quietly in the corner or go for a wander.

In my playing days, I was what you might call a 'Thinker', spending hours sat on the toilet, in the same pose as Rodin’s masterpiece, feeling sick and wondering how I managed to find myself so out of my depth.

The same applies to fans. There are the ‘Brian Blesseds’ – clamorous, cacophonous and supremely confident of victory. Then there are the ‘Happy to be heres’ – rational, expecting little, but enjoying the ride.

England captain Phil Vickery

Again, I’m a ‘Thinker’: intensely quiet, contemplating defeat, bordering on morbid.

Ahead of England’s World Cup final against South Africa, I can’t help thinking that’s the best way to be. If you turn up in Blessed mode, where is there to go? Whereas the rush brought on by an unexpected victory, well, that’s an absolute delight.

As for France’s transport unions, I’m not sure they’re fans of rugby at all.

As I write, with England supporters starting to trickle into town, the Metro is still up the wall and the state-run rail company SNCF has only been able to guarantee its services will be halfway back to normal by Friday evening.

On Thursday morning, like English schoolchildren at the first sign of snow, most of Paris’ workforce sacked it off and stayed in bed. Nicolas Sarkozy, you’ve got no chance sunshine.

The good news is the strike is expected to be over by Saturday, so leave those cars on the outskirts – when it comes to driving, these Parisians will have you for breakfast.

As to how England’s players must be feeling right now, unless you’ve been there, it’s almost impossible to know. But they can be safe in the knowledge that the Stade de France will feel more like Twickenham on Saturday night.

My email inbox has been throbbing for days and I’m told most of the members of Campion Old Boys RFC are on their way. The floor of our hotel room will resemble Sangatte come Sunday morning.

I know the hordes are coming, but I still feel nauseous. Keep repeating it Dirsy: “England are going to get whupped, England are going to get whupped…”

I did much the same before the games against Australia and France, and look what happened then. Oh, the joys of being a pessimist.

PS. A mate just phoned and asked if I want a free ticket for tonight’s third-place play-off. Altogether now (you be Warwick, I’ll be Wonder): “Keep smiling’, keep shinin’, knowin’ you can always count on me, for sure…that’s what friends are for…”

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.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 05:12 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • doctormatt wrote:

if england win, it will undoubtedly be the biggest comeback in sport, since germany beat hungary 3-2 in the 1954 world cup final, after being thrashed 8-3 by them in the group stages.
it's really the england scrum Vs SA lineout, percy Vs. jonny, and moody Vs that SA flanker whose name i've forgotten in my trouser wetting excitement.
roll on the final
3 cheers for england

  • 2.
  • At 05:38 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Glyn from the Alps wrote:

Great to get to the final, but now it's all about winning. I'm one of the pessimistics, too, Ben, and I won't be out gloating even if England win, it's always sad for the losers.
Still, it's nice that even the French admit England were the better team. May it long be the same.

  • 3.
  • At 05:40 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Mike Buckley wrote:

Interesting article....bringing me back wistfully to my own playing days and my own pre-match preparation.... I use to hate all that fist pumping, chest thumping macho shite that would go on...always thought it was a waste of energy that would be better used on the pitch. As a No.8 and main line-out target I would spend 10 minutes throwing a ball repeatedly and quickly off the dressing room wall and trying to build up my sharpness as to what way the ball was going to come back at me etc. Ahhh dem' were the days....sorry...where was I? Oh right...ehh..sorry..England to give a good game of it for the first half...maybe 10-6 down..something like that...but then expect Boks to step it up second half. I'm sorry's been an amazing journey for you to here...but here's where it ends. Habana to to murder you with at least 2 tries in last 10 mins.

  • 4.
  • At 05:52 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • DannyJ wrote:

I know there are a lot of people wanting England to win besides me. But I have a rather important ulterior motive besides my zealous patriotism. My missus, just bet me that England won’t win... (Don’t shout she’s Irish and bitter) the payoff should England prevail? I never have to wash-up again... that’s right... EVER! Come on boys!!!


  • 5.
  • At 06:06 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Lu wrote:

In the euphoria of England's win against Australia and France, my dad managed to write a poem that could give inspiration to any England fan.

Ode to England RWC 2007

The USA came, and fought with valour, they could not win, but changed our pallor. Next came the Boks with all their might, and we went down without a fight.
And then Samoa, they ducked and weaved, but in the end they too were peeved.

The tide had turned toward our favour, England at last had time to savour. That cup is ours we sought to dream, to wrest it from, will take some team.

The Tongans came, and came on strong, but joy for them did not stay long. They played with flair and were audacious, and in defeat, were ever gracious.

By now with all, the quest to keep, had passed the rose and gone in deep. The doubters, fools and insolent, had sorely missed our real intent.

Then came the Aussies, sleek and brash, felt England, was there to thrash.
But soon against our Aussie "muckers", we stunned them with our mauls and ruckers. Not one inch did we relinquish, we give them reason to hate the English.
In the fray they were to cower, to England's all pervading power.
The hype before, had some believing, that England's finest would soon be leaving. The final act conveyed the truth, again the Aussies were shouting "struth"

The victory there was oh so sweet, but still the work was not complete.

The French were up with loud Oui Oui's, for they'd dispatched the sad Kiwis. And so they felt, like all the rest, that they could beat the very best.
The French could taste that golden loot, and lost all thought of Johnnie’s boot. The Paris party did go hail, but not because of England's fail.
All Frenchmen wandered in a daze, brought on again, by "les Ingles"

To move ahead, turn back the clocks, as once again we face the Boks. They're big and strong and have a cause, the Afrikaners and the Boers. But Englishmen believe their rite, and this time round will give a fight. We'll wear them down, and find a root, to feel the sting of Johnnie’s boot.

And at the end, the final whistle, where is the shamrock, leek or thistle.
No gold and green, no black, les blues, they've all gone home to jeers and boo's. And in the glare, the field of light, left standing are the men in white.
The men of England have prevailed, and all the rest have simply failed.

The morale of this story goes, the Champions still wear England's Rose!

  • 6.
  • At 06:17 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Theo S wrote:

I think you lot are the greatest. It really is amazing to finally read posts by people who are wild about the game and not into some pseudo nationalistic slagging match.

I'll be buying beers for any English or SA fans I come across in the next few days.

  • 7.
  • At 06:37 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Larry Leopard wrote:

Dannie boy, me mucker - your missus is a smart lass, indeed. Enjoy the washing up. "Take a bet in haste and repent in leisure."

  • 8.
  • At 06:46 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Tommy wrote:

Nice poem, pity about the French in the seventh (?) stanza. I'll be keeping an eye on the action tonight and waiting for tomorrow to arrive. Wishing I were there! Come on England!!!

  • 9.
  • At 06:47 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Peter singleton wrote:

Not sure whether I am finally crossing the line between sanity and madness but I am expreiencing a range of emotions which certainly seem to be building up as we get closer to the final. Its almost like I am preparing to play myself!Shakespearian quotes on the essance of what it is to be an Englishman going into battle are moving me!When I was in my playing days I used to really go into a shell and only emerge from that just before kick off when there was nothing else for it but to face the music. Part of the addiction of Rugby is having gone through that emotional roller coaster and win lose or draw, come out the other side. I am really feeling for the players because as proud and as good as they are they will suffer in the uncertainty of how the game is going to go. But then again they are blessed to be that good and to have such an opportunity. They have to leave the field knowing they gave everything, and I'm sure they will.

  • 10.
  • At 09:47 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Prestwick wrote:

We are on the final stretch lads. I'm going to shed a tear when I read the final blog post :'(

  • 11.
  • At 09:54 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Carole Maidenhead wrote:

Oh WOW, oh wow, just watched Argentina beat up France. So sorry for the French, but, boy, weren't those Pumas fantastic. Talk about commitment and passion. Oh God I love rugby.

  • 12.
  • At 10:00 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • R wrote:

All this and the merseyside derby too, I'll be a nervous wreck tomorrow...... COYB, Allez les Blancs

  • 13.
  • At 10:10 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • BUSHY wrote:

You wont be alone Prestwick No 10; 50m others will be crying come 10pm tomorrow; or more than likely long before then.

Promises to be the most one sided final ever.


  • 14.
  • At 10:13 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • phil wrote:

just a sport filled weekend, what could be better.
what a party it will be--win or lose.

  • 15.
  • At 10:17 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • One Legged Ed wrote:

If England play with the passion that the Puma's did tonight, the cup is theirs.

Tom, have you got your ticket yet? I don't know what is worying me more, tomorrows game, or whether you will be in the stadium?!

  • 16.
  • At 10:31 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • gutted irish fan supporting england v sa wrote:

the argentinians ere fab v the french! as an irish fan, i dont feel so bad about being beaten by them now lol. we at least didnt get hammered. the french were in shock. good luck england tomorrow- however it'll have to go some way to bettering the france argentina game tonight.

  • 17.
  • At 10:34 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Kevster wrote:

My god I'm shaking as I type this, anticipation for tomorrow has just exploded after watching the third/fourth place game and knowing that us vresus the Boks is all that is left of this tournament. I've got to play rugby tomorrow and I can't focus anything on it, all my rugby mind is too invested in England.

I think we can win this, I'm just not sure that we will. What we do better than the South Africans they also do pretty well(scrums, set pieces, play around the break down) but what they do better(loose play, breaks from the base of the ruck, tactical kicking) they proably do much better. I just can't get my rational mind to add this up to anything other than heroic defeat for us. I'm sorry.......though if it's any consolation to anyone I felt this way before both the Australian and the French games!

Tom and Ben, I agree with Prestwick when I say that I'll probably cry a little when this is all over and all I have to left to look forward to is your test match text updates. How the hell you're going to get the Bloggernaut to Sri Lanka is something I look forward to hearing about!

  • 18.
  • At 11:42 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • chris phillips wrote:

Poster number 5, tell ur father bloody nice job! haha really enjoyed reading that!! nice one

  • 19.
  • At 11:59 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Carl wrote:

I had a dream last night that i was reading the paper on Sunday morning at the headline was champions with the score of 15-14 to England.

  • 20.
  • At 12:11 AM on 20 Oct 2007,
  • Karlos wrote:

Despite our celtic roots, Augher Clogher Rugby Club (anyone who frequented any 7s/10s tournament in the London / Warsaw / Stockholm areas in the late 90s will remember us - we usually ended up winning. And streaking...) will be represented at the final. After realising they could get tickets but had no way of getting to Paris, our die-hard English contingent came up with the perfect solution - lease Chelsea FC's jet for 2 days. I hope it was worth it...

  • 21.
  • At 02:26 AM on 20 Oct 2007,
  • Sundance wrote:

I know this may sound ridiculous but I bear the lucky pants tomorrow. Every time they have been worn, from Dublin '03, through to Sydney '03, England have been victorious. Such was their lucky status that they were put into retirement after the last world cup. Due to popular acclaim (or demand) they came out of retirement for the quarter final and they will be there, freshly laundered and as sprightly as evergreen J. Robinson tonight.

That's all I have to say.

  • 22.
  • At 08:09 AM on 20 Oct 2007,
  • Kevin Greenan wrote:

Being a Paddy I am cheering for both sides as they are both great to have got to the final - so good luck to them both. Being a Paddy living in London I will be a real weasal in our local pub in Pimlico (The Constitution) were such kind sporting views are not appreciated - they want England to win and to hell with everyone else, so I will be openly cheering only England - wot a wimp!

  • 23.
  • At 03:28 PM on 20 Oct 2007,
  • The Barry John Seven wrote:

I don't want England to win because I am Welsh

I want England to win because its shut up New Zealand with their four year preparations and assumed coronation as world title holders

I want England to win because they are the underdogs and they've ripped up the form book

I don't want England to win because they only can win playing tedious grunting rugby

I don't mind England winning because unlike Clive whatsisface, Brian Ashton seems a likeable human being.

I don't want to England to win because of the inevitable unbearable triumphalist reaction in the press

I don't want England because some of the players are just such completely vile people, take a bow Dayglo'd one.

There, that's got that off my mind.

  • 24.
  • At 06:44 PM on 20 Oct 2007,
  • Chris Cranfield wrote:

On the subject of omens, I spent last weekend watching England beat France in my fathers living room, with him telling me to quieten down when Jonny scored, exactly as he did four years ago where another quirk of fate meant that we were watching it together (and yes, he is English). So, for history to repeat itself I'm going back to the same pub in Leeds where we won the final, hoping for the same result and the same bedlam that ensued. Remember the 'all pile ons' that you used to do at school? It was a bit like that when we won. Brilliant. Come on England!!

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