I’ve never really understood why England football supporters adopted the theme to “The Great Escape”.
If it has to be an English sporting anthem it should surely be heard be at rugby, not football internationals.
And maybe, for good measure, Martin Johnson should have at least
one “Get Out of Jail Free” card in the deck for the poker game on the team bus; if not a whole pack of them.
Scotland’s gallant attempt to reach the last eight came down to the bounce of the ball as Nick De Luca failed to gather, cross the line and extend the Celtic under-achievers’ lead to the eight points required to send their old foe back to Heathrow.
The result is that the black-shirted Northern Hemisphere champions limp on to Auckland to face France on Saturday.
The two most unpopular sides in the tournament will play each other for the right to meet either in-form Wales or resurgent Ireland.
Some time ago I posted a feature attempting to explain why Team England are so unloved. I cited arrogance, based on an over-inflated expectation of their capabilities to beat the best in the world. I got a little criticism for my comments, of course, but here we are again.
Team England doesn’t have to work hard at being disliked – it comes naturally. The black shirts with numbers unraveling like the fragility of their on-field confidence didn’t help. That, however, wasn’t their fault – the blame for this can be laid at the door of their sponsors, Nike, in an attempt to out-black the All Blacks. Pathetic.
While for most other international teams, a bit of dwarf chucking or chambermaid baiting would be regarded as de rigueur and a normal part of touring (certainly for the French) England’s discomfort at appearing in the spotlight for the wrong reasons is cringe-worthy.
And that’s without the not-so-fairy-tale-ending of the captain who marries a princess (well almost) then snogs her friend. Mind, you I can’t see the French having a problem with that one.
Ashton’s swan diving only serves to juxtapose the pettiness of ball-gate, beer-gate and every other off-the-field-gate which Team England have presented to a press hungry for disunity and in-camp discord.
Mind you, they don’t have to look too far for that within the French camp. The French, who appeared either to spurn or be ignorant of the fact that a simple kick in front of the posts would see them progress to the last eight, are in total and very public disarray.
While they are not quite refusing to get off the bus – as their soccer counterparts did in the 2010 World Cup – they’re not far from it. Marc Lievremont commented that instead of the team bonding-over-a-beer scenario that he wanted following the Tonga defeat, his players splintered into small fractious groups and sat brooding with their agents, pondering how much harm all of this was likely to do their commercial prospects. Quite a bit like English football, then.
But don’t be fooled by how badly the French appear to want to be knocked out of this competition. Ok, there must be something about New Zealand which is totally abhorrent to the Gallic psyche. Maybe it’s all those sheep or perhaps it’s the fact that New Zealand women seem to find Mike Tyndall attractive.
Either way I expect them to buck the odds of a formbook which includes three previous World Cup loses to England, and come out on top in Auckland. I am also tipping them – which I have done since last year – to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on 23rd October.
And England? Martin Johnson, great player as he was, is more a part of the problem than he is a part of the solution. Until Johnson and his Leicester Mafioso are shown the door, Team England will always be the proverbial bed-wetters of international rugby – cocky in
the playground but hiding from their own undisciplined shadows at night.
If this mediocre England side is to pull off the greatest of all Great Escapes and lift the trophy at Eden Park, they will need more than Jonnys boot to do the tunneling.
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