Nothing focuses an Aussie sportsman more than stuffing the Poms

Martin Johnson was anything but uplifted by Saturday's events at Wembley
Wembley has, of course, staged higher-profile World Cup finals than this one, and if 1966 was the year of "they think it's all over", a sizeable chunk of the nation's sporting buffs might regard 1995 as the year of "they're not entirely aware it ever took place".

As the spectators made their way home down Bobby Moore Way, it was hard to believe that even had England won, Wembley would have marked the occasion with anything more romantic than the Denis Betts Snack Bar. England, however, did not win, neither were they ever likely to after adopting the Alf Ramsey blueprint of playing without any wingers.

In the end, the competition just about succeeded in raising the game's global profile, although it will take a touch more than warming up the crowd of 66,540 with Status Quo as opposed to the Batley Brass Band to spread the gospel across the continents. As Wembley reverberated to "Rocking All Over The World", it was slightly easier to believe that a more appropriate barometer of excitement would have been a mild outbreak of foot-tapping in Widnes and Dewsbury.

There was even the suspicion that the female streaker was all part of the pre-planned choreography. While the young lady in question gave a new meaning to the term Wembley's twin towers, she kept her bottom half firmly under wraps, which suggested she must have been English. Australians have fewer inhibitions - and it showed in the match itself.

English rugby league, while faster, fitter and more ball-skilled than union, is based around the same strategy of minimum risk. England's right wing, Jason Robinson, made about 200 yards on Saturday afternoon, of which all but about three inches were sideways. Australia's castle was largely impenetrable against a strategy which did not appear to recognise that there might be a tradesman's entrance around the side, and it was a bit like watching someone taking a hammer and chisel to Ayers Rock.

If Australia had not made a series of handling errors within sight of England's line, the scoreline would have been more decisive. Australia's opening match loss to England disguised the fact that they always seem to win when it matters, and it is much the same on the cricket field. Nothing focuses an Australian sportsman more than stuffing the Poms.

Australians have two stereotyped perceptions of the English; a natural aversion to soap and water, and an honours degree in whingeing. However, Australia has little to learn from England in the art of bleating, as we witnessed with their semi-final carp at the refereeing. On Saturday, however, all the hairline decisions went the Kangaroos' way, with England, unlike in 1966, looking round in vain for a Russian linesman.

Neither was there any whingeing from the Poms that they more often than not appeared to be playing against 14 men. Andrew Johns presumably won the man of the match award only by a short head from the tracksuited Australian water-carrier, who might have scored less points, but who certainly covered more yards during the 80 minutes.

The big surprise about Australia's first try was that the hand adjudged to have fractionally got there first did not contain a water bottle.

Given the fact that Australia were playing out of season, and that a number of their better players were left at home after defecting to Rupert Murdoch's Super League, England's post-match optimism that there is not much between these two sides seems a little misplaced.

Betts, the captain, said: "We didn't get beaten today, we just ran out of time." How much more time England actually needed he didn't say, but to most observers, we are not so much talking in minutes as years.

Comments