Rugby and the Media

Like a few million other people I spent the morning yesterday in front of the television – or idiot box as I usually refer to it. I didn’t go to the pub to watch, nor did I have anyone watching with me. Perched on the edge of my chair with a bucket of strong coffee, I was prepared for an agonising eighty minutes.

The occasion of course was the rugby World Cup final in Japan and I was a bag of nerves before the game. Ever since I was a boy and was told by a former Springbok cricketer that if I worked hard at my bowling, I too could wear the green and gold (I never did) I have supported South Africa in sport. Many Rhodesians have worn the Springbok colours and I don’t think many of my countrymen were supporting England yesterday.

Nevertheless, the England team had comprehensively beaten the mighty All Blacks the previous Saturday and in doing so had put on an awesome display of fifteen man rugby. Nervously I wondered whether the South Africans could match it.

They could indeed and were every bit as awesome yesterday as England had been the previous week. I sighed with relief when the final whistle blew and my heart bled for those defeated Englishmen. Everyone who plays or has played any sport to a reasonable standard will know or remember the bitterness of defeat, particularly in a big match – and you don’t get bigger than a World Cup final.

My sympathy for the players ebbed a little when so many of them refused to wear their silver medal – Maro Itoje refused to even put it on. I thought that was somewhat disrespectful to their Japanese hosts who had laid on one of the most successful world cup tournaments ever. But I suppose their actions mirrored the disappointment they were feeling, so I wallowed happily in the feeling of euphoria engendered by the handsome Springbok win.

What surprised me was the reaction of the British Press this morning. Last week, they crowed about the World Cup coming back to these shores and what heroes the rugby team were. They were lauded as saviours of a divided nation and Head Coach, Eddie Jones was tipped as a racing certainty to become Sir Edward in the New Year. They gleefully reported how a victory parade was scheduled for next Tuesday in London and at least one major clothing retailer produced a few thousand England World Cup Champions 2019 golf shirts.

Huh! Those same scribblers this morning poured bile and vitriol on the English players and support staff. They were accused of having ‘shamed the nation’ and being ‘totally inept in their performance.’ There were calls for last weeks proposed knight of the realm to be fired and for mass changes in the team before the Six Nations tournament begins in a few months time.

Once again, my sympathy for the players and support staff rose. They gave of their best and were beaten by a better team on the day. Every sporting side, no matter how successful experiences that from time to time and it is part of sport. I wonder how many of those commentators have ever been on a sports field of any sort, let alone in the heaving cauldron of emotion that is a world cup final.

One or two of them have and the former England scrum half, Matt Dawson who is now the BBC’s main rugby pundit was reasonably gracious. Last week, he wrote that if one was picking a joint England/South Africa team, all twenty-three places would have to go to England because their players were so much better.

After the game, he grudgingly admitted that the Springboks had played well and deserved their victory. Thank you for conceding that, Mr Dawson but I wish you could get your fellow scribblers to sit down and try to understand just what happens to everyone involved in a big sporting occasion.

Far from the England team being fired, I feel that most of England’s hypocritical journalists should lose their jobs.

Well done South Africa, but well done England too. Despite reading many accounts that described the game as ‘scrappy and disjointed,’ I found it fascinating to watch and it wasn’t until Cheslin Kolbe scored five minutes from full time that I truly allowed my nervousness to dissipate and settled down to watch the post-match celebrations.

In fact I opened a bottle of wine in my own little solo celebration. As it is Sunday today I might well imbibe a wee bit more in order to toast Rassie Erasmus. He ignored the predictions of the so called ‘experts’ last week and stuck to his own game plan to provide South Africa with their third world cup triumph.

Three finals and three victories – two of them against England. That really can’t be bad.

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