This is getting silly. Three weeks after being humiliated 36-0 by South Africa, and following a week of headlines predicting everything up to and including emasculation at the bare hands of the Australian favourites, England were yesterday propelled into the semi-finals of the World Cup by the boot of Jonny Wilkinson.
This wonderful implement was not quite on its usual unerring form (he missed one drop-kick and three penalties), but it is a measure of how superbly he and his colleagues played that the four penalties he did kick were enough for a 12-10 margin in Marseille. They also made Wilkinson the highest points scorer in the history of the competition.
As victories go, it was – given Wilkinson's persistent medical problems – a triumph for British surgery, as well as being evidence that the nation's representatives are never more dangerous than when no one, least of all their fellow countrymen, gives them a cat in hell's chance. So it was yesterday. By half time, with the score at 10-6 to Australia, the widespread pessimism of the morning ("Wallabies will put England on a plane" – copyright D. Telegraph) had been replaced by the unreal thought that maybe, just maybe, a win was possible. A second half of no score by the Australians and two penalties from You-Know-Who, and there it was.
And so, refuelled in the pit-stop of fate, English minds turn towards today's Chinese Grand Prix, and Lewis Hamilton. He is in pole position, and only cruel misfortune – or a basic error of the kind he has shown no sign of making – can stop him becoming world champion either at breakfast time today, or in Brazil in a fortnight's time. He will, at 22, be the youngest world champion ever, and the only man to win the title in his first season.
Thus, the lad from a broken home on a Stevenage council estate will see his salary rise from the £340,000 with which he began the season towards parity with the £20m a year banked by his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso. Add personal endorsements and other deals, and calculating Hamilton's earnings will soon require a rev counter. More than that, he will have joined Wilkinson at the top of that most exclusive of sporting trees: the one reserved for clean-cut heroes whose private lives are uncluttered by booze, lap-dancers, or permatanned Wags with a shopping compulsion.Reuse content