James Lawton: Australian insults reveal the fear of Wilkinson's boot

Rugby World Cup: Whingeing Wallabies are so scared of England stand-off they want to change rules while red rose hard man shows maturity
Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Campese may still be as charmless as a "crook dingo" (sick, wild, howling dog) but with the escalating insults in the build-up to this World Cup final, he has - maybe for the first time in his life - given a hand to English rugby.

Though perhaps not consciously, the old tormentor has - as the phoney war of mutual congratulation by the coaches, Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones is swept away by the first wave of serious Pom-bashing - reinforced England's belief that winning must always come before style, before everything.

He has done it by gloating one more time about the way he helped to sucker England into a futile running game when they lost to Australia in the final of 1991.

England have reason, however, to believe that Campese is getting in his shots while he can. He does go on to admit: "This lot of Poms are not dummies. Somehow, I don't think they'll buy the three-card trick like they did at Twickenham. I said plenty before the game and even the New Zealanders said they wanted us to win because we played much better rugby, and the Poms fell for it. They tried to shift it wide, but they had no idea."

Campese admits that England do now have the ability to run the ball, but, like the rest of the nation, he is plainly transfixed by the potential of a powerful pack and the Wilkinson kicking machine to drain the life out of the Wallabies in the World Cup final on Saturday.

Result: a campaign of vilification which is hinged to the cry that England are not only boring but actively attempting to kill the game.

On the front page of the Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph a picture of Jonny Wilkinson is framed in a red no-smoking symbol under the headline: Stop Jonny, the man between us and the trophy. On the back page there is a coloured picture of England saluting their fans after the crushing of France in Sunday's semi-final and the accompanying sneer: "Hands up if you think we're boring."

Not only is victory over the Poms considered a national priority, it would apparently also save the game.

Other headlines: "Wallaby greats say dull England are destroying rugby", "Time to drop field goals to one point", "Pass the Bucket (a reaction to David Beckham's syrupy message of support to his friend Wilko)", "Is Jonny the great - or just a yawn?" And so on and so on, so many insults, including a few gratuitously tasteless ones directed towards the Royal Family, before the assertion that Wilkinson's robotic goal-kicking emphasises how one-dimensional a player he is, and... "He is surrounded by team-mates who are pre-set automatons unable to vary their predictable game plan. One quick cloudburst and they may all short-circuit."

There are two possible English reactions. One is to go into a huff and the other is to suggest that all this is blazing evidence that England, who operated on full withering power through Sunday's rainstorm, have penetrated the very entrails of Aussie confidence.

How rattled are the sporting master race? Sufficiently, it seems, to recruit the former All Black Grant Batty to the job of Pom-baiting with his risible suggestion that England have "an unreasonable advantage" because Wilkinson has turned himself into arguably the greatest kicker in the history of the game.

Batty claims that most fans are "bored to death by Jonny" and, "if it was meant to be a kicking game William Webb Ellis would never have picked up the ball and run with it in the first place. That was the idea. I have always thought three points for a drop goal was inequitable and it was a travesty to see Wales score three tries to one against England and lose the quarter-final."

Rod McCall, a member of the Wallaby team in 1991, joined the campaign which will have to accelerate at supersonic pace to remove the Wilkinson threat before Saturday's game.

McCall said: "It wouldn't take long for the lawmakers to alter the scoring to promote running play." Three days might be something of a push, however: not that this deters McCall. "An attempt at a drop goal is something you do if you can't be bothered attacking, or if you want to take cheap points. I'd probably knock it down to at least two points and bring the value of a try up. They will eventually do it."

Wilkinson's reaction is icy disdain. He said: "We will do everything we can to win the World Cup according to the rules - and I don't expect they will have changed by Saturday."

England can afford to take that imperious approach. Already they have gained the psychological high-ground. Though the Wallabies produced a brilliant performance against the All Blacks, objective rugby aficionados were deeply impressed by the power and the competitive poise of their final opponents as they pounded the French into the slippery turf of the Telstra stadium on Sunday.

The England coach, Clive Woodward, who has five years of Australian life under his belt after a stint as a Sydney businessman in the days of amateur rugby, is more amused than threatened by the aggressively dismissive noises directed at his team. "I'm proud of the way they have come together, how they have become so difficult, maybe impossible to beat when it matters. I'm pleased to say that this team knows it is all about winning, winning and winning."

Of course the Pom-bashing will roll on and England will smile at it all in the fortress they have built among the surfers on Manly Bay.

Amid the mirth, however, there may just be a little resentment of proposals to change the game because of the ultimate efficiency of an English kicker.

It smacks a little of Augusta National modifying the course because Tiger Woods is so good. A drop goal, perfectly executed, surely can be as sublime as a chip from Tiger out of the rough. Stopping the drop goal, which was so brilliantly employed by Rob Andrew against Australia in a World Cup quarter-final in Cape Town eight years ago, should be the work not of legislators but those nippy Wallaby flankers.

In France, of course, the skill is not neglected. The legendary Jean Prat once landed a match-winning drop goal so exquisitely it was described as a miracle. But then what was a miracle to a man born in Lourdes? Wilkinson will no doubt continue to develop his art. Stop Jonny? It sounds more like a prayer than a command.

Comments