Gut-wrenching it is to lose a Rugby World Cup Final anywhere at all, but Twickenham 1991 wasn’t much fun when our hopes evaporated on a deliberate Campese try-saving knock on, as well as a phenomenal defensive performance by an Aussie team which contained some of the best names who ever pulled on the jersey. Throw in an apparent inability to change tactics and you have some of the picture. So I know what it is like to lose the big one – for the record I kept and framed my silver medal, it did not end up in the river. That sums up the differing emotions, but the whole experience of contesting the right to be the best in the world was priceless. We left it all out there and should have won, but we didn’t.Tough and we had to accept it.
We did bounce back to win a second successive Grand Slam in record points scoring style. So we recovered after a fashion or as much as we could given that the next World Cup was too far away for some, definitely me! This England team is young and will learn, and be better for the pain.
I dwell on this because it is how you react to a setback that defines you – as Maro Itoje rather uniquely referenced in his tweet. I could say that Ford has history of struggling to deal with back foot rugby, that England looked too cool against Springbok ferocity instead of embracing it wholeheartedly. I could ask about limited resource at No 9, not picking your best centre and what appalling luck to have your in form prop knocked out by your in form lock.
But no, I prefer to dwell upon Kolosi’s humility in victory, the 60 minute squeeze followed by ruthless and high pace execution of opportunities and two half backs who employed a relentless winning strategy. The last 20 minutes defines you as team doesn’t it, when the pressure is on and victory or defeat looms. Wasn’t that the quality of the legendary All Black teams, even some of this one? How South Africa turned that screw and then celebrated with true deep happiness. Oh and a rendition of an anthem which can only have filled hearts and lungs with boundless energy. Did anyone see the Habana interview with Kolisi, afterwards, it was an outpouring of emotion and much of it unexpressed. They looked at each other and knew what it all meant.
What about Rassie Erasmus ? Munster waxed lyrical about him as a coach and a man and how right they were, he said more in a few well chosen words than others have in a year or more of constant mind games. Which do work sometimes by the way but this man saw some inner strength in his squad that just needed nurturing and bringing out.
Finally, I said before that South Africa as a country has my heart and I say it again with some hint of envy that I am just a bystander in their sporting celebration and I hope along with everyone that this victory is a force for good.
There are already lists appearing of great moments of Japan 2019 and attempts to look ahead.
Stay in the moment I say, savour a Sporting win which is one for the ages, and for an England team to say at least they were there even if as an unhappy and frustrated party in the end. Next time, next time……..