Rugby Union: Lost boys of Never Lands

David Llewellyn sees the Dutch get no points for tries but lots for trying
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The Independent Online
THERE was a symbolic sight even before the slaughter. Dutch fans were waving inflatable hammers above their heads, in ironic anticipation of what was to come. But England nailed them. And while not being quite as ineffectual as that Holland were hopelessly outclassed in every department.

But they never gave less than their all. They earned the respect and affection of the crowd, not merely because they were the underdogs on the end of a thrashing, but because they refused to give up. They fought to a standstill and the final whistle and thoroughly deserved the standing ovation they received from a disappointingly low crowd of 9,000, after redefining the phrase Dutch courage.

As their captain, Mats Marcker, emotional but defiant, said: "We gave it our best shot. It was all we could do. This is my last year. I am giving up after the World Cup, so it felt great to play out there. But afterwards in the dressing room most of the guys were crying. They gave so much."

Holland's coach, Geoff Old, a grizzled former All Black said: "The points against us are irrelevant. And at least we are not in the Guinness Book of Records for conceding the highest number of points in a match [145 by New Zealand against Japan in the 1995 World Cup]. What we are trying to do is develop the game of rugby in the Netherlands. To do that we need to rub shoulders with the top countries. We will analyse this match and our next game against Italy on Wednesday and we will move forward.

"There is a danger in matches like this of the better side dropping to the level of the opposition, but that did not happen here. England were very clinical." Not as much as their coach, Clive Woodward, would have liked, however. "We have done what we set out to do although we could have been more clinical, " he said. "There were errors. Some flash miss- passes went to ground. It is certainly possible to be critical."

All the pre-match apprehension about the safety of the lighter and less experienced Dutch scrummaging evaporated very quickly. "They scrummaged very well," acknowledged Woodward. "And our own forwards did just enough to produce a good contest and secure the ball."

It was well into injury time that the strength sapping technique of the English forwards finally began to take its toll on the Dutchmen when their scrum buckled; but even then it was only a momentary lapse.

The line-outs were not quite a procession, but Garath Archer soared at will on Richard Cockerill's throws. Whenever they got near the Dutch line and won a penalty Paul Grayson did not even hesitate - he kicked straight for touch and then it was a matter of catch and drive.

Out wide it was a very different affair. Hard as the Dutch tried they just could not fence in the English, there was just too much land. But that did not mean that they did not have a go. The two centres, Rogier van de Walle and Garron Everts, homed in on their targets like scud missiles and exploded into the tackle. Elisara and the openside flanker Nick Holten were also conspicuous in contact, frequently putting in big enough hits to rattle, if not to dispossess the ball carrier. And there were even men in tangerine shirts prepared to put their bodies in the path of Ben Clarke and Martin Corry when the burly back-row players were in full flight, or indeed in front of anyone in an England shirt.

Enough defensive work was put in by the Dutch to prevent England reaching their half- century until after half time. But even then, with the floodgates threatening to open they did not give up. England frequently needed to set up a further phase or two in order to crack the defence. But it did get harder to contain the rampant white shirts.