075. RWC2019 Semi-Final 1: England 19 New Zealand 7

The importance of being a good loser is three-fold:

  1. it’s the right thing to do;
  2. the fans of the winning team should be able to celebrate without having their moment dragged; and
  3. sucking it up and digesting it in its entire awfulness, rather than diverting yourself with nonsense, will make it more likely we’ll learn the right lessons to win the next time.

So as soon as the final whistle blew, I shook the hands of the English fans in front of me and said “Congratulations, well done, you were much the better team tonight”, and I continued that with all the England fans I encountered on the walk back to my hotel.

It’s a sobering experience, which is why I decided what I really needed was some whisky. But not good whisky, because no All Black fan deserves good whisky after that performance.  No, what I needed was bad whisky.

The local 7-Eleven store was able to lower itself to meet my expectations with a hip-flask of know-nothing industrial ethanol and caramel colouring (on the label it boasted it was ‘peat-free’, which is to say ‘not really whisky’) for a mere 284 yen (about NZD$4.40). (Yup, the decimal point is in the right place.)

I then joined a group of half a dozen kiwis on the patio of our hotel, and poured the ‘whisky’ into my coffee and then beer, which at least diluted the ‘flavour’, as we commenced the post-mortem.

The short story, we reckon, is that there’s a difference between theory and practise, and between plans and execution.

Shag’s theory in the selection of Scott Barrett at blindside was that we could pick their line out.  Good theory, entirely plausible – and not nearly executed.  Instead the English lineout was a machine that delivered high-quality ball to them, and disrupted our lineout so we got dribbles of nonsense.

This is not a criticism of Scott Barrett, who made an amazing try-saving cover defensive effort to keep us broadly in touch.  And it is a description rather than a moral criticism of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick to say they got completely dominated in the lineout, and nullified at the breakdown.  I know it, you know it, they know it: and despite how bad I feel, you can bet they feel 284 times worse. Sport, huh.

The second area where we got beaten was in the English rush defence.  We had seen enough from the All Blacks back line this year – especially against Australia at Eden Park, and against Ireland in the quarter-final – to persuade ourselves that we could pick the lock of any defensive system.

It turns out we were wrong.  The English defensive line was fast, straight and disciplined.  Nobody rushed up out of line to create a gap.  They kept their discipline and made their tackles: and the English loose duo of Curry and Underhill in particular made some big hits that sent us backwards.

So the conclusion is that Eddie Jones’s theory played out in reality, and Shag’s theory did not, on the day.

Maybe on another day those roles would be reversed, but this match wasn’t played on another day.  And we lost.

To the better team.

Lost to England in a Rugby World Cup for the first time. Congratulations, well played.

Have another slug of ‘whisky’.

With the result that when I crawled out of bed on this grey, sad Sunday to find that it wasn’t a bad dream my head and stomach agreed that it was all sad and bad.

The only thing to do was go for a ride on the Cosmo World roller coaster, which suited the moment exactly. You twist and plunge and hurtle into the ground, and it’s all over quite quickly, and you return to earth feeling a bit sicker than before.

 

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