James Lawton: Setting the standard others must now aspire to

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The Independent Online

Hubris would be a mistake, but the extra piece of good news is that nowhere in our sporting life is such a warning less pressing.

England's rugby union team have not only acquired world class technique, but also the demeanour of winners at the highest level. If this translates into a World Cup triumph later in the year it will be the ultimate bonus, but meanwhile there is no reason to turn away from serious celebration of what England achieved in Wellington.

They produced something rare and precious in British sport. They showed the hardest appreciation of what it takes to compete with the best and if it is certainly true the stunned and beaten All Blacks will tend their wounds and re-double their efforts, we can also be sure that the team built by Clive Woodward will feed this reality deep into their collective psyche.

A 12th straight victory for Martin Johnson and his men, while not always perfect in execution, was imbued from start to finish with that sense of absolute commitment to a long and demanding challenge.

The way they coped with the sin-bin absence of the magnificent Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back - and kept their heads after Ali Williams had so egregiously attempted to separate Josh Lewsey from his - were marks of a team in a state of superb concentration.

Johnson, who from time-to-time has slipped into mind-numbing violence, was every fibre the player his admirers point to in the rubble of his misdeeds. Dallaglio was the perfect expression of the warrior instincts, underlining his own rehabilitation from his indiscretions off the field a few years ago. He paid for those with the captaincy of England, but all else has been redeemed.

In recent years our sport has developed an appaling tendency to embrace false dawns - and marginal achievements.

The cricketers, particularly, and their football counterparts have consistently lacked the will to fight at the highest level. On Saturday it was simply impossible not to compare the resolve of England's rugbymen with the collapse of the cricketers in Australia and the footballers in the World Cup in Japan last summer.

The rugbymen were operating on an entirely different level and this morning they should be celebrated in our hearts - if not in our Honours List.