Only the most blinkered fan would argue that the England rugby team that overcame France on Saturday night to reach a second successive World Cup final are the essence of flowing movement and dazzling creativity. But what they do possess is something even more impressive – a degree of collective will and organisational rigour that has never been bettered in the 20-year history of the competition. To follow their quarter-final triumph against a much more fancied Australia by shattering the dreams of the host nation was a monumental achievement that owed almost everything to sheer character. For all that Jonny Wilkinson once again made the decisive contribution, this was, above all, a supreme team effort.
In the tournament's group phase a few short weeks ago, England appeared to be giving up their 2003 crown without a fight. The 36-0 defeat at the hands of South Africa marked a nadir from which there was no foreseeable way back. Yet back they have come – believing in themselves when nobody else did, remembering what made them world champions in the first place, reaching far enough down into the well of inspiration to find that it had not, after all, dried up. For this transformation to have been completed by beating not just one bitter rival but two merely adds to the intense pride that can be taken in events across the Channel.
It has been wryly observed that England at rugby have become like Germany at football: not pretty, grinding out results, outwardly inferior to many of their opponents, but somehow always reaching the final. We must enjoy the novelty while it lasts.Reuse content