Sunday, 18 October 2015

That’s it. I’m not putting teeth under my pillow any more

It’s enough to make me lose faith in fairies.

The Rugby World Cup’s been a strangely unsatisfactory competition, especially from the point of view of anyone English. Despite the tournament being held here, England failed even to get out of the pool stage and into the quarter finals. I’m always pleased when an English team sets a new record, but I wish it hadn’t become the first ever host nation to fail to qualify.

Still, one could as an Englishman switch one’s allegiance to one of the other Northern Hemisphere teams. Four of them had made it into the quarters, along with with four from the South: France, Ireland, Wales and Scotland joined Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.

Of the four Southern teams, Argentina looked the weakest. It has been steadily improving for a couple of decades, but it’s only recently made it to the big time. On the other hand, among the European teams, the one that has performed the best in the last year or two was Ireland, which won the premier competition here, the Six Nations, in both 2014 and 2015.

As it happened, Ireland was playing Argentina, so that looked like about our best bet for getting one Northern team through to the semis.

South Africa looked vulnerable, beaten in their first match by Japan, a nation which looks like Argentina a decade or so ago: improving but still not a major side. Wales, one of the stronger European sides, might just beat them.

As for New Zealand and Australia, their performance had been spectacular throughout the competition. There was little chance of off-colour France beating the former, or Scotland, near the bottom of the Six Nations, beating the latter.

So what happened?

South Africa avoided the mistakes that cost them against Japan, and beat Wales.

New Zealand did a demolition job on the French, leaving them bloodied and bowed.

That took us to Ireland-Argentina, our best chance. Within thirteen minutes, Argentina were 17-0 up. Ireland fought back, but were well beaten in the end.

The only hope left was for Scotland to beat Australia. But Scotland is one of the weakest of the Six Nations. Australia have been magnificent throughout this tournament. Surely only a miracle could give Scotland the victory.

A miracle or a fairy tale. One of those great sports stories, beloved of Hollywood, where the unfavoured underdogs come good on the day and beat their fancied, powerful opponents.

Well, it nearly happened. With three minutes to go, Scotland was two points up. Then Australia was awarded a penalty, worth three points if successful. Which it was. So in the end Australia went through by a single point.

Scotland came so close to beating Australia
And making a fairy tale come true...
The fairy tale was not to be. 

It’s enough to shake my belief in the Walt Disney World. Its enough to cast doubt on the existence of Father Christmas, even if you call him Santa Claus.

Anyway, the result is that we go into the last two weekends of the Rugby World Cup with not just the host nation eliminated, but the host hemisphere. The English often complain that we invent sports for the rest of the world to beat us: football (what everyone but the US call football, anyway), cricket, now rugby.

Indeed, as far as rugby’s concerned, it isnt just the country of its invention that disappoints, its the whole continent.

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