LEADING ARTICLE:England's sweet chariot crashes

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The Independent Online
A week ago Rob Andrew, England's rugby genius, put the smirking, ever-cocky Australians in their place with a kick to remember. By the weekend, he had received an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours. Yesterday, the same Andrew and the same England team were humiliated by a bunch of South Sea islanders boasting such an imbalance of fire-power that fans were only surprised the UN was not called in to arbitrate.

For the neutral, and for the rugby purists, yesterday's victory by the New Zealanders over the English was a joy. They slung the ball about and ran with it; we - until a last, magnificent and futile rally - preferred to continue our trust in boot and maul. Theirs was a triumph of extravagance over constipation, of skill over expediency, of glorious athleticism over cynical pragmatism. But for the committed in the pubs, clubs and living rooms of the nation, it was misery.

And how many of us had become committed: during the past three weeks, millions who wouldn't know their clean ball from their re-cycled ball had latched on to the England team; they had sung, when in beer, about sweet chariots; and they had faxed morale-boosting gags to the Daily Mirror about Kiwis and sheep.

This was, in part, because the England team, with its square-jawed captain and heroic fly half, was worth latching on to. Its achievements were immense. But mainly we invested in the team because, as a nation, England is desperate for international sporting success - the most significant source of national pride in the modern world.

And any sporting success would do (short, it has to be said, of team angling, in which we are, apparently, so far ahead it is not worth the rest of the world getting out its tackle).

All of which was why yesterday was so depressing. Here was the team that promised to quench our thirst but found that heroic best was not enough. Here were the bearers of our hope being swatted aside by a man who plays like the progeny of a one-night stand involving Linford Christie and Giant Haystacks: Jonah Lomu, the new Colossus. Lomu might have spared us from John Major calling a snap election on the back of an Andrew-generated feel-good factor. But this was scant consolation.

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