Forecasting England’s World Cup has, apparently, proved to be a mug’s game. Last week I predicted a long and tumultuous relationship between the English national rugby side and your average Cantab, stealing precious minutes from sleep/work/rowing (delete as appropriate to your Michaelmas plans).
However, this forecast was predicated on the not entirely unreasonable assumption that England would manage to progress beyond the group stage by beating Wales. Although the Welsh back line ended up comprising mostly of forwards and fluff from Warren Gatland’s belly-button, England’s inspired first half crumbled after far too many infractions at the breakdown and a well worked try scored by Gareth Davies.
England’s progression will require victory over an Australia team hitting peak form at the most (in)opportune time imaginable, or several upsets of a similar magnitude to South Africa’s historic defeat to Japan. Neither seem particularly likely, and so with England’s tournament in tatters, anyone failing to turn off the television in disgust will have to take the frankly unpalatable option watching other countries play rugby.
Many, of course, will turn to a second team. This idea sounds great at first; victories can be met with a semi-ironic round of gloating, and losses shrugged off a wry grin and another pint. Unfortunately, any team that might lay down a convincing claim to underdog status is even less likely to make the quarter finals than England, and the usual suspects at the top of world rugby should all have earned themselves grudges from England fans over the past few years. Even the less successful and thus less offensive fan-bases harbour a fairly visceral hatred of England rugby anyway, and so the chances of being accepted by a new brethren ride almost entirely on how convincing your range of ex-colonial accents is.
This article is being written in the immediate aftermath of a truly brutal home defeat, and so of course with time will come a more full realisation that it is, after all, only a game. In this respect, England’s failure can be compared fairly well to the inevitable first non-optimal supervision feedback. A gloriously imagined future of academic/sporting success collapses violently towards the present moment with a bump. That 2.2 grade on an essay and a three point deficit at the final whistle both can seem truly earth-shattering to the uninitiated, but after a few years of experience, both problems downsize from life-defining to a mild inconvenience. What really matters is how you dust yourself off, and deal with the disappointment by keeping going and doing better next time. At least Australia don’t stand between you and a 2.1.