Exposed by Kiwis' dynamism and speed of thought

INSIDE THE ENGLAND CAMP
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The Independent Online
Silverlake Golf Club near Pretoria was my chosen venue on Saturday. An empty course to enjoy while the locals revelled in South Africa's magnificent win over New Zealand. What I was able to share in though, mostly through no choice of my own, were the post-match celebrations that rang through the streets and houses of shanty towns and exclusive neighbourhoods alike. A country united, for a while at least, and proof of just what sport can do.

If you have ever seen South American celebrations after a football match then you can imagine the scenes - thankfully minus the gunshots normally prevalent in the country. The revelry carried on into the late hours and provided much amusement as we made our way that evening to the closing dinner of the World Cup.

Post-match or tournament dinners are never anything to write home about, but this one was made infamous by the presence of one Mr Louis Luyt (or Doctor Luyt as he likes to be known, courtesy of an honorary degree).

We had been exposed to his smugness, among other "qualities", last year on tour, but he outdid himself this time. Among other things, he wrote off the previous World Cups as an irrelevance due to the absence of South Africa, and invited a clearly embarrassed Derek Bevan - the referee of their semi-final against France and their opening game against Australia - to accept a gold watch thanking him for getting them to the final.

The fact that we were at the dinner means that we can be proud of the fact that we are one of the top four teams in the world, but that was not our goal and, since we set our goals so high, the end of the dream was especially painful. The end came in the shape of the All Blacks, and it would be easy to say that it was mainly in the shape of Jonah Lomu.

However, the truth is that for much of the game we were cruelly exposed by the dynamism and speed of thought of the Kiwis. The fact that we were able to match them for most of the second half is indicative of the talent latent in this squad, but it was too little too late. The trouble is that, week in week out, domestic rugby in New Zealand and the rest of the Southern hemisphere is played at such a pace, whereas our rugby could be best described as stagnant and unimaginative.

Looking ahead, we need to play at least one game against either Australia, South Africa, or New Zealand each year so that we can continuously assess where we stand against these sides.

The Marlow sessions will be resumed so that the club-like quality of this side can be maintained. In these sessions, there will be a push towards becoming more reactive in games so that we better counter sides that wish to infringe and slow down our game. Indeed, we also recognise that we need to become more adept in these areas - a tad more streetwise.

Crucially, though, the area that needs to be further developed is the domestic structure of the game. Courage Leagues have done a lot to bring us this far, but things need to be taken a step further. The most radical proposal is to kick-start a Super League, where the best players in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy play against each other on a frequent basis. The division structure could perhaps be the format to take this on.

It is strange to be back home after the trials and tribulations of close to six weeks of rugby. Wimbledon and the Lord's Test match help nurse you as you return to some kind of normality. One thing is sure though - if the game is to progress as it should, there will not be much normality in our game come September.

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