Sporting spirit alive and well in lively Cafe society

Some of those unable to get plastered in Paris chose to watch the World Cup final in an atmosphere of beer and bonhomie. Mike Rowbottom reports
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The Independent Online

For hundreds of English and South African rugby fans unable to attend the World Cup final on Saturday night, the Sports Cafe in London's Haymarket offered the next best thing.

Liquid evening meals were under way two hours before kick off in the house of a hundred screens, although dinner was disturbed by the flourishing of a giant South African flag by a group making their way upstairs. The consensus of opinion among them was that their team were on for another victory, although not by the margin of 36-0 they had achieved in their group match exactly 36 days earlier.

"I'll say 25-18," ventured Jan Kruger, over from Pretoria on a working holiday. "But we have to watch out for [Jonny] Wilkinson." His mate, Corel Boshoff, was equally cagey. "I'll go 22-15," he said. "No team has ever lost in this tournament and then beaten the same team in the final."

History, then, was on South Africa's side. But history was also on the side of England as far as Chris Costin, from Surrey Quays, was concerned. He recalled being in Sydney's Telstra Stadium when the World Cup was won four years ago.

"It was emotionally draining," he said. "The Aussies were fantastic in defeat. If the Springboks win tonight I have a feeling they are not going to be so magnanimous."

But the Springbok presence was nothing but a positive for Costin. "I think this is the place to watch rugby if you can't be there yourself," he said. "The main thing is to be with the opposition."

Costin's mate Fred Heusen, from Wimbledon, was notably sanguine. "I don't care who wins as long as it's a good rugby match," he said. "I want to feel some pride."

Liam Leahy, with red crosses on his cheeks, appeared tense. "I'll say 15-12 to England. I'm just more worried about what the mood is going to be like if England don't win."

The mood at the bar was one of bonhomie, however, as the burly, shaven-headed figure of Reece Kruger bantered with home-team followers. "England rugby people are very good," he said. "I've come here for two other matches, and you know you're going to have a good evening."

When Wilkinson's early penalty levelled things at 3-3, the jubilation went beyond sound and into reverberation. But the mood had dipped by the break as the Boks made it 9-3 with the last kick of the half. One England fan stood staring up at the advertisements, his face set with concern. "I don't want to talk to you," he said, not taking his eyes from the screen.

Outside, a TV crew interviewed a policeman as beer-wielding blokes cavorted behind him. A single South African supporter stood with arms aloft in front of a group of around 20 England fans, who offered up a chant from another code: "Who are ya? Who are ya?" The Bok smiled beatifically. An England supporter moved forward to fake-tackle him, then released him with a grin.

The key passage of play at the start of the second half put the fans through the gamut of emotions. Growing wonder as Mathew Tait flew on through the ranks of previously impassable green shirts like some adroitly handled figure in a computer game. Frustration as he was halted five metres from the line. Joy as Mark Cueto finally hurled himself over in the corner.

And then everyone was staring at a screen showing a bespectacled man staring at a screen. Rugby history was in the making – or the unmaking. The wait went on, and on, and on...

As the South African contingent stood uneasily, their counterparts suggested the verdict with growing insistence as the head-on and rear-view replays confirmed their opinion, with all eyes on Cueto's trailing – or sailing? – left foot. "Try! Try! That was a fucking try!"

The man in the stand finally turned executioner and a moan of dismay went through the building. White-shirted figures reeled away, clutching their heads.

After home frustration had been compounded by a couple of cynical South African obstructions, one increasingly belligerent red rose bearer began to engage with the edges of the Springbok ruck, until a couple of mates steered him away. Eight minutes left. Still 15-6.

The shaven-headed Kruger was by this time upstairs, and an England fan moved across to him and shook his hand. "You've won it," he said.

And then they had. As white shirts began to stream away, the Springbok contingent appeared to have taken up synchronised trampolining, beer flying unheeded from the pitchers they held above their heads.

"It was much harder than the first game," said a dazed Jan Kruger. "It was very strategic. I'm the happiest guy on the whole earth."

Fred from Wimbledon seemed satisfied. "That was a fantastic game, and what a performance from England," he said. "Both sides showed great heart."

A little further down the bar, Richard Stacey was in a sombre but reflective mood. "I think the better team did win in the end,"he said. "But talk about England spirit. From 36-0 to that. When you see our players steaming in, giving it 110 per cent, that is real passion. It starts when they sing the national anthem. When you see the England footballers doing the same thing it's just embarrassing.

"I'm a Millwall season-ticket holder. You can come here tonight and see a game and shake the South Africans' hands and have a drink and a laugh. That's what this sport's all about. You tell me if that would happen with football."

As the bar staff began sweeping up, remnants of English support, largely female it has to be said, began to dance energetically to "Blame it on the Boogie". Outside, a single Bok informed the Haymarket in general, and one Union flag-draped figure in particular: "We are the best in the world, mate!" It was spoken with an arm around a shoulder.

'You can talk about decisions but we were not clinical enough'

"It was a crucial moment and just one of those things – millimetres, inches"

Martin Johnson on Mark Cueto's disallowed try



"To be so close and not do it is heartbreaking"

Martin Corry



"It looked OK, but I'm sure the guy making the decision made a good one. Maybe in other games it would have gone our way"

Jonny Wilkinson on Cueto's effort



"They did fantastically well getting into the final but in days to come, they'll reflect on what they've done and be really proud of themselves"

England coach Brian Ashton



"Inside I was dying"

South Africa coach Jake White on the game's final minutes



"I can't fault anyone. We've had a magical time here. Fair play to South Africa. They were the better team and this is their victory."

Phil Vickery

"You generally have a good feeling straight away when you think you've scored a try. I thought it was legitimate and went back for the restart"

Mark Cueto



"The whole of the UK thought it was a try"

Scrum-half Andy Gomarsall

"Credit to my Springboks. Defences win World Cups. It's amazing how history repeats. There were no tries in 1995, two tries in the 2003 final and no tries tonight"

White



"The players, they can keep their heads held high. They have nothing to be ashamed about. There will be no recriminations from me, and from the way the fans responded, not from them either"

Ashton

"The future looks very positive. We have very promising young players coming through"

Ashton



"You can talk about decisions or whatever but we were not clinical enough"

Vickery



"It's a wonderful feeling, finishing here with the World Cup. It has been a long four years. There have been real highs and real lows"

South Africa captain John Smit



"This is awesome. The emotions are greater than I ever thought. I can't wait to get back home"

South Africa lock Victor Matfield



"I don't remember the first one in '95, it's too long ago, but I'm enjoying this one"

Prop Os du Randt a member of the 1995 World Cup winning team



"I will go home, see my daughter, chill out for a few days and then look forward to getting back on the paddock for Wasps"

Vickery on what the future holds

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