England win ugly rugby

It was a victory of sheer obstinacy. For all the French possession and skill and flair, who can say that the English did not deserve to beat them in Saturday’s semi-final?

They made mistakes, they missed kicks, they lack rhythm. But they played for their shirts and – from their fierce defence of a five-metre scrum to the drop kick in the closing minutes – they made the big moments count.

What made this victory extra delicious was the extremely low base from which they started. After a mediocre few years, England went down 36-0 to South Africa early on in the tournament and there were very real fears that they wouldn’t make it past the group stage. 

As Eddie Butler put it in The Observer: “It is hard to describe how ineffably dreadful [England] were at the start of this World Cup. How they only got worse against the United States. How they fell so hard against the bottom of a deep, deep pit against South Africa. It is absolutely impossible to state how slim their chance were of defending their title. They were shite.”

But even the French press have been begrudgingly appreciative of England’s achievement. "France came up against the world champions like a bull wearing blinkers, running into a solid white wall," said Le Journal du Dimanche. 

L'Equipe, the country’s magisterial sports daily, hailed England’s work rate and opportunism. "With formidable tenacity, England waited for their time – or rather their last five minutes. In their disciplined way, the white defence held off all the untidy attacking assaults of the French. It was as if they knew their moment would come.

"It came through the surges of Robinson, who played the last few minutes here as if they were pre-ordained. And choosing to live by the boot, France finished by dying by the boot, the majestic boot – it has to be said – of Wilkinson."

It can’t get any better than this. Can it?

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