When Richard Nixon agreed to being interviewed by David Frost, he did it for the money. He took the interviews in a light hearted manor and enjoyed the ride. As the interview meanders along Frost leads Nixon down a path and he utters his now famous line:
“Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
Shortly after that he looks in to the camera and realises his world is slipping away. He started to get that gut-wrenching feeling that no matter what he did from then on, his world would be defined by that moment.
The England rugby league team know that feeling. I know that feeling. Our Nixon moment happened against New Zealand last weekend.
It may take weeks, it may take months, it may take years, but just yet, it hasn’t happened. I haven’t got over New Zealand beating England last week and I’m certain and the players haven’t either.
Rugby is played over 80 minutes and New Zealand used every last second to win the game. As I start to get more objective about it, fair play to them. Yes, it was one of the great rugby league internationals, yes, it was great TV for a large prime time audience and yes, New Zealand are a great side. But winning in the way they did left big hole in my Saturday afternoon.
Reading the views of other England fans, a number of been putting the blame at the door of Kevin Sinfield.
English fans love to hate Kevin Sinfield, and I’ve no idea why. He’s been all class for years and the undisputed leader of British rugby. Remember, when Jamie Peacock was England captain, he was more than happy to step back into the shadows at Leeds to let the guy he calls the “greatest man he has ever played with” lead the team.
Sinfield shot out of the line, missed a tackle and New Zealand scored, so Kev gets the blame. George Burgess’ high tackle is already being airbrushed from history by some fans. Ryan Hall dropped an interception and had another chance to score but slipped. Shaun O’Loughlin dropped a ball heading over the line, Charnley and Watkins blew a golden chance towards the end of the first half.
In the film Any Given Sunday, the team’s coach, played by Al Pacino, utters what is now one of the most overused phrases in sport: “life is this game of inches”. It’s been accepted by the public because it’s true – top level games pivot on the slight details. Should Kev have shot out of the line? Nope. Is he to blame for England losing the game? Nope.
Sam v Sonny
It was hyped to rafters and it didn’t let down. In a team game, picking out individual battles is usually a complete waste of time, but Sam v Sonny III was a belter.
Sonny Bill was immense. He carried the ball like a man possessed, hit everyone (especially Sam) like a bull on the charge at Pamplona and had the ball handling skills to embarrass his half backs. Then there was man of the match Sam. Former captain Jamie Peacock called it the best performance by an England player in the last 20 years and he was probably right. Stats don’t always tell the whole story, but Sam’s stats for the game are eye-watering:
- Carries- 18
- Metres- 206
- Tackles- 29
- Offloads- 3
- Line breaks- 1
- Try Assists- 1
- Tries- 1
It was incredible to watch two of the best forwards in the game at the moment go head to head while they’re both at the height of their powers. It was The Rumble in the Jungle moment for rugby league – I really do believe that.
What a game
Final thing about the England v New Zealand semi final. Wasn’t it a flipping good game?
It’s definitely the best international game I’ve seen (that means starting in about 1988) and probably in the top three games I’ve ever seen – the other two were the Saints v Wigan Good Friday derby in 2004 when they knock the sh*t out of each other and the Origin game a few years back when Cooper Cronk stuck a sneaky drop goal over towards the end of the game.
If this is the level that international rugby can be played at, then we need more of it.
Roos v Bati
Did anyone watch it? I didn’t. After the heartbreak of the England game, I couldn’t bring myself to watch any more than the Fijians singing at the start of the game.
Eventually I caught the highlights and it was a sad way for Petero to finish a glorious career, however he’ll look back and see that he was routed by an exceptional team of Australians. No shame there.
For what I did see, it just reinforced what we already knew… Thurston is class. Inglis is an animal. Australia love the big occasion.
The greatest anomaly in world sport is New Zealand. No matter how many times they beat your team, you always want them to do well. Maybe it’s the Haka, maybe it’s the cool black outfits, maybe it’s the fact that they all call you bro, maybe it’s because there’s more people in London than New Zealand yet they still punch heavily on the world stage. Who knows.
But after the Kiwis destroyed England’s World Cup after the hooter on Saturday, the All Blacks mugged Ireland in the same way on Sunday. Never ahead during normal time, the All Blacks scored in the 82nd minute to tie the score, before Cruden missed the conversation. Controversially, yet correctly, the ref ordered the kick to be retaken because the Irish had tried to charge the kick down before Cruden started moving. The result? The ball flew over the black dot and New Zealand had finished the season unbeaten.
If Australia had turned England and Ireland over in the same way, Australian flags would be burned in the streets, there would be a demo outside the embassy and Home and Away would be taken off air. When the Kiwis do it, people sit around and chat over coffee about how amazing they are wasn’t it a privilege to witness such power and skill on display.
I don’t know how they do it, but it’s an amazing achievement.
So this Saturday, expect 98% of the 75,000 crowd at Old Trafford to be loudly cheering on the Kiwis. Maybe it’s because Lancashire is the UK version of the land of the long white cloud (although with extra rain drops), but I’m certain the final will sound more like Manawatu than Manchester tomorrow.
The final kicks off at Old Trafford tomorrow (Saturday) and has all the hallmarks of a classic. Match ups across the field are mouth-watering – Locke v Inglis or Slater, Luke v Smith, Sonny Bill v Bird, Thurston v Johnson, Gallen v the world (standard state of affairs).
If it’s half as good as the first semi final, then it will be a belter.
The Aussies start as favourites and their record in this tournament demands that. They haven’t conceded a try since the opening game at Wembley and have been an efficient and ruthless killing machine since then.
I can’t decide if their easy run to final has been a blessing or a curse. It’s true that the only time they have been tested – England in the opening game – they struggled when England got it together. However, that was a lifetime ago and the first run out for many of the Aussies in weeks. Since then they’ve had plenty of training runs where players have been awarded caps (sorry Ireland) but nothing like what they will face on Saturday.
The big question for me is will the Kiwis have recovered from their exertions against England? If they’ve come through it relatively unscathed then I fancy them to retain the title and win three major tournaments in a row.
To win the game, Isaac Luke needs to be more involved more often. England managed to keep him quiet for most of the semi final and that takes away some of what makes the Kiwis tick. He’s a class player and will know he needs to step up, as will Shaun Johnson. Kearney also needs to look at his bench, because they were a liability at Wembley and the Aussies will mercilessly target him if he rolls on to the field for the final.
The Kiwi defence also needs to be tighter around the half backs and not let Australia hit them with the wide/wide play that England did time and time again. New Zealand were primed for a forward battle and didn’t look to have many answers when Widdop and Sinfield shifted the ball wide and early. Thurston and Cronk are better than the English pairing, so expect a stern examination of the Kiwi defence, but if they close it out, then they’re in with a shot.
And then there’s Sonny Bill. SBW said he’d never felt so beat up after a game after the semi, but he was awesome. A full 80 minute performance of carrying, hitting and handling. If he’s left to be just Sonny Bill, I wouldn’t back against the International Player of the Year becoming a double world cup winner.
The Aussies are favourite, but I’ve put the last £2 I have before pay day on a Kiwi win. A sentimental decision? Probably.