Campese admits he 'admires the Poms'

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The Independent Online

England received plaudits from a wholly unexpected quarter yesterday. The former Australia star David Campese, a man renowned for criticising England, has grudging admiration for the way they have battled through to the final.

The 1991 World Cup-winner wrote in Sydney's Daily Telegraph: "After all these years of Pom-bashing and gritting my teeth over their on-field strategies, there is a quality in this England side that has won my genuine admiration.

"This team has guts. They have the mental toughness the Wallabies, the All Blacks and the French were unable to find.

"England have refused to lie down when almost everyone, even a few within their own ranks, gave up on them a month ago when the Springboks pounded them 36-0."

The NSW Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie is another Australian who has come to respect England's battered and bruised players. He wrote on the Rugby Heaven website: "In the modern era of the metrosexual rugby player the pursuit of products is paramount. Hair gels, facial lotions, layered, tinted and streaked hair is commonplace. Tight shirts, ripped jeans etc etc. The 'look' has become important.

"I admire England's "Dads Army" because in many ways they are from the past. While it might not look fashionable, going back to the future is actually a common rugby cycle.

"Society these days likes to be retro. In many ways England is delivering us some retro, and scar tissue is part of that. In the older days your face was a good barometer of a rugby player. It would be impossible to be an international rugby player and not finish your career without a bit of battle damage."

The South African press expressed varying degrees of optimism. The ILO website indicated plenty of reasons why South Africa go into the game as favourites after pointing out that "the Springboks have scored 263 points in their march to the final – in 1995 they scored just 129 to get there – and, coincidentally, they have scored 129 more points than England so far at the World Cup.

"The Boks have scored an impressive 33 tries compared to England's paltry 12." However, they also point out that should the game be tight, England have arguably the world's best kicker in their ranks.

"That is England's game – hanging in, holding on, keeping in touch with the opposition and then – with the mounting pressure proving a leveller – working Jonny Wilkinson into position to kick them home."

The Supersport website was more bullish, claiming: "There is no denying that the Boks are a much better team than England. If you go through the team lists, it becomes abundantly apparent why the South Africans start as overwhelming favourites.

"They [South Africa] have more game-breakers, they have the faster, more explosive runners, they have a better back row, they have a world-class scrum-half, and the last time these two teams met it was the Boks who dominated the collisions.

"England do have Jonny Wilkinson back, but though the 2003 World Cup-winner is much hyped by the English media, and is really the only potential match-winner in the England outfit, he is not the player he was four years ago.

"Indeed, many think he may be carrying an injury and is forced to play through the pain barrier every time he takes the field."

The Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport's headline rugby story yesterday featured a picture of the former South Africa president Nelson Mandela, who famously appeared at the 1995 final in a Springbok jersey – a symbolic gesture to the nation as during his incarceration on Robben Island during the Apartheid years he had always supported South Africa's opponents.

The paper quotes Mandela as saying that more than just winning the World Cup, the 1995 victory had unified the nation.

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