It was perhaps significant that just a few hours after we witnessed one of the greatest World Cup matches in history, between England and New Zealand for the right to play Australia in this year’s final, I should receive an important email.
It asked for my choices in the first round of voting for the next member of the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame. There were more than a few names in the list of nominees that had put their own stamp on World Cups in the past. Reading the names and recalling those great performances of yesteryear made me quite sad.
It may sound strange, but I yearn for the days when the Great Britain players used to win more than their fair share of matches against Australia.
Before you call for the men in white coats carrying straight-jackets, let me explain that when I was knee-high to a grasshopper we had a good reason to hate our traditional foes from Old Blighty.
To match it with the iconic names from Britain was a feat in itself. To beat the Lions was something to be savoured like a glass of 1971 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru. Of course I’ve never had the opportunity of sampling such a fine drop of wine (I live in hope) – and certainly didn’t as a teenager. Perish the thought! But I watched the likes of Billy Boston, Mike Sullivan, Alex Murphy, Eric Ashton, Vince Karalius, Brian McTigue and Derek Turner put the cleaners through our guys.
Vintage displays! As I watched the television at around 4am on Sunday I thought perhaps …yes, perhaps … the Brits had at last found a combination that would test us in next Saturday’s World Cup final.
They seemed to have found a halfback combination worthy of the Test arena in Kevin Sinfield and Gareth Widdop. Their props Sam Burgess and James Graham were taking it up to the Kiwis with gusto. Hooker James Roby was playing a clever game. Sam Tomkins? Well he is a fine fullback, isn’t he? There was also winger Ryan Hall who has caused Australia problems in the past.
And while Australia was about to go through yet another one-sided encounter, when really they needed a tough, no-nonsense clash, the Brits looked ready to finish off the Kiwis in a game that would have them battle-hardened in preparation for the ultimate World Cup finale.
But I had forgotten. This was an English side. And the players did what they have done far too often in recent years. They didn’t aim up for the full 80 minutes. A stupid penalty was conceded. Then Kiwi hooker Issac Luke, possibly the most underrated player in this World Cup tournament, was allowed to run. Shaun Johnson touched down for the try and, despite the pressure, converted.
I looked at the TV clock and there were just 21 seconds left when Johnson grabbed the equalising try. It is no good playing well for 79 minutes and 39 seconds if you let down your guard right on full-time. It was a finish like those that happen regularly in the NRL.
Teams never give up – and can sometimes produce finishes that seem quite miraculous. Just like the Kiwis’ effort. The Englishmen were found wanting again in the closing seconds of a game. It won’t be the same if Australia beat the Kiwis at Old Trafford. After all, had their politicians behaved differently in 1901, they would have been one of the British colonies that made up Australia.
We don’t like them on the sporting field. We take the Mickey out of them because of their accents. But it is the Brits whom we really love beating in sport. (Switch the television dial to the Ashes cricket Test in Brisbane and the World Cup of golf in Sydney). I don’t know the answer.
Perhaps it is a case of sending more of your top players out to the NRL to join the likes of the Burgess brothers, James Graham, Widdop, and now Tomkins. Burgess was named Man of the Match (chosen 10 minutes before full time). Needless to say, he reckoned he would willingly have swapped the award for a victory over the Kiwis. I feel for him … and all Rugby League lovers in Old Blighty.
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