So they took off their medals. That, apparently, was the heinous crime committed by the dejected England players in Yokohama Stadium last Saturday night. They took off their medals.
They didn’t take them off to hit the referee with, or the victorious South African players. They just took them off, because they were the wrong colour. Those consolation medals were silver, when they had wanted gold.
The Rugby World Cup is not the Olympics; a mass scramble to reach the podium. Twenty teams chase one goal; winning the tournament. Second is not a target.
England fell short of their goal to win the World Cup and had to deal with a brutal defeat
They accepted being beaten by a better team on the night and the reaction has been extreme
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. That is the phrase we always hear from players and coaches who have been criticised. Well, everyone also has the right of reply. In this case, there has been criticism on Mail Online Sport of England’s conduct and attitude last weekend, so consider this an informed clarification, from someone who covered the entire campaign in Japan.
The post-match debate has divided opinion
Many charges have been aimed at Eddie Jones and his squad, most of which demand a response. Removing the medals after their 32-12 defeat to the Springboks was the first charge.
In this era of righteous indignation, that particular line of criticism was doing the rounds on social media within minutes of the presentation. Yet, within the stadium and in all the post-match interviews, it was not considered a serious matter or a mark of disrespect.
No amount of training turns rugby men into machines. They are at the mercy of human nature. They were devastated to lose a game they had hoped to win. They knew they were favourites and that they hadn’t delivered when it mattered, so they didn’t cherish the tokens of their near-miss. That is hardly surprising.
As a competitive teenager watching the 1991 World Cup Final, which England lost 12-6 to Australia, this observer was bemused and somewhat infuriated by images of many smiling English faces on the pitch at the end. Of course, this was an attempt to be good losers, but a personal memory is of Mike Teague conveying a fierce sense of frustration and angst, which chimed with the mood among viewers – well, certainly this one.
There is a famous quote on this issue from the great American Football coach, Vince Lombardi – who guided the Green Bay Packers to five Super Bowl titles in the Sixties. He said: ‘Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser.’
Tom Curry swapped shirts with winning captain Siya Kolisi (right) and congratulated him
Clearly Eddie Jones and his side were desperately disappointed but the outcry goes too far
The 2019 England team have been accused of failing to applaud the referee, Jerome Garces, with the implication that they blamed him for their loss. Well, off camera, those of us in the stands saw Owen Farrell lead his players in a line to shake the hand of the French official and his assistants. Many exchanged words with him. There were no arguments. Afterwards, the English players – to a man – accepted that the better team had won; no complaints.
They did not let themselves down with their post-match conduct, as has been claimed. There was raw emotion, but no petulance. No-one stormed down the tunnel in a sulk. They walked around the field to clap their fans. They stood respectfully to watch their opponents lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Another of the charges is that they succumbed to ‘brattishness’ due to loss of bonus earnings. That is an accusation without any substance.
England players enjoy being well paid (who doesn’t), but in the moments after the final, their actions and words spoke of devastation at missing out on historic glory, not on the loss of an additional payment.