My Own Goal: Chris Oti

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The Independent Online
THE former England rugby union player looks back to the first match of the 1991 World Cup for the moment it all went wrong for him. A winger, Oti made a sensational start to his international career in 1988 when, in only his second match, he scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland at Twickenham.

Now 29, he retired from the game at the start of this season. He won 13 England caps, scoring eight tries for his country.

IT WAS the opening match of the World Cup against New Zealand. I suppose one or two doubts had entered my head even before the match. We had been on tour to Australia during the summer, and been heavily beaten. I didn't think my own form had been too bad, but the team had come in for quite a bit of criticism.

One of the things the press were calling for was for me and Rory Underwood to switch wings. At the time, I was on the left wing, and Rory on the right.

There were obviously some people who felt it should be the other way round, and it was difficult not to take notice of what they were saying.

There was a lot of hype before the game. They were the world champions, we were the champions of Europe. It was Twickenham, and the start of the first World Cup to be held in England. It was a grey afternoon, I remember, but it was fine for rugby.

To begin with, things went all right. It wasn't a great game, but we were doing pretty well, containing them, and leading by three or four points. I wasn't seeing too much of the ball, but I was tackling OK and doing my bit.

Then came the moment I'll never forget. It was a few minutes into the second half. There was a scrum in our half, a New Zealand put-in, and they executed a very nice blindside move from which John Kirwan, the All Blacks winger, had a run at me.

Kirwan was my opposite number; my man to tackle out of the game. That's the thing about being a winger. You're there to run with the ball, but equally you're there as a marker, and if your man gets the ball, you're the one who's got to take him out. You're very exposed like that.

I'd always been regarded as a pretty good tackler. But not this time. I never used to get down very low for my tackles. I preferred to aim more for the guy's midriff. That way you knocked them over harder. I honestly thought I had Kirwan, but he went round me on the outside and pushed me away with a hand-off. I hardly got a hand on him. Jon Webb came across and tackled him, but he got the ball to Michael Jones, who went over under the posts.

It was the turning-point of the match. New Zealand went on to win, and we never had another chance. You always want to make up for something like that by having a run with the ball yourself, but I never got one.

The extraordinary thing about that moment was the whole thing seemed to be happening in slow motion. It wasn't real. It was like the volume had been turned right down. The crowd was silent. I couldn't hear a thing except the voice in my head, saying: 'Can this really be happening?' It was just a horrible experience.

Looking back, I think my career took a nosedive at that moment. My confidence went. The whole point was that this was the sort of thing I was supposed to be doing to other people. Now it was happening to me. I thought: 'There's something wrong somewhere'. But the lesson I learnt was that no matter how confident you feel in your own abilities, you can never be absolutely sure.

I kept my place for the next match, against Italy. But they did switch me and Rory, and I had to play on the right wing. It wasn't a success, and as it turned out that was my last match for England. They brought in Nigel Heslop and I never played again.

By losing to New Zealand, it meant England didn't have to play Australia in the quarter-finals. We played France and then Scotland before losing to Australia in the final. But my career had started in such a blaze of glory, and now it was ending on a pretty low note.