Something extremely odd happened at the end of the World Cup of rugby that Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusautoir turned into a personal issue of epic proportions. It was that England's captain Lewis Moody, as best he could given his team's performance here, joined on the list of tournament heroes his counterparts of New Zealand and France. Well, sort of.
He did it with his resignation speech, which was hardly the platform for glory granted him at the Telstra stadium in Sydney eight years ago when as replacement for the great Richard Hill he won the line-out ball that launched the move that finished with Jonny Wilkinson's winning drop goal. But, yes, it did require a kind of heroism and Moody produced it when he became the first member of the England squad to admit publicly that arguably the worst, most unprofessional campaign of a major nation in the tournament's recent history had causes other than some destructive media campaign.
Moody's courage, such as it was, went beyond this mere statement of the obvious. It also included a degree of self-criticism. He revealed that he sensed the potential for disaster, felt extreme discomfort when he left the bar at 10pm on the evening of Dwarfgate, even as some of his team-mates, including vice-captain Mike Tindall, were displaying the party mood.
It has to be noted that some in English rugby are less than overwhelmed by Moody's mea culpa even while allowing that he is a conspicuously decent character. They say it has come a good month too late and that it may not be totally separate from the need to publicise a forthcoming autobiography.
However, it is maybe worth recognising that the result is the first dent in the appalling suspicion that one of the English problems is not so much the denial of fault but a failure to understand, just about completely, the nature of it.
The retiring captain's statement has already been given an airing but the crucial segments are worth recalling in what they tell us about the pressures that were allowed to build after manager Martin Johnson's decision not to impose any kind of curbs on the public behaviour of his players, a mistake that was compounded by his failure to make any kind of significant response, as in sending the most egregious offenders back on the first plane.
Crucially, and after admitting his regrets that as captain he did not order the players back to the team hotel, Moody said: "We talked about conduct, about what was acceptable and what was not. But you can only make people aware, tell them and tell them. Some people have to get burned before they understand. It is the most bitterly annoying thing imaginable."
It cannot have been easy for Moody to say these things, partly because of the implications for the regime of his former World Cup-winning team-mate Johnson, partly because it required a total contradicting of the self-serving stream of euphemisms pouring from the lips of his team-mates.
For whatever reason, Moody has done what, sooner or later, all self-respecting professionals must do. First he looked in the mirror and was not entirely pleased with what he saw. He then assessed the performance of those players who in a perfect world might have been expected to follow his lead. When the All Black stars Cory Jane and Israel Dagg got drunk, senior colleague Piri Weepu dragged them out of the bar. On reflection, Moody concludes that he might have done the same to some of his men.
That he didn't is plainly a regret that will linger down the years. However, he said what he had to say. This may not make him Richie McCaw or Thierry Dusautoir but it does establish him as an England rugby player with the nerve to note the difference between right and wrong. After the last few weeks, it is surely a parting gift of incalculable value – and a focal point for new leadership perhaps provided by someone like Sir Clive Woodward or Nick Mallett.Reuse content