The Big Game 5: Harlequins 26-15 London Irish

So it’s my birthday this weekend (thank you) and this year my long suffering other half gave me a choice of presents – tickets for Fulham v Swansea at Craven Cottage, or Harlequins v London Irish at Twickenham. Now I normally love going to the football – I used to have a season ticket at Fulham, and the White Horse pub in Parsons Green is worth a trip to West London in itself. But this year I decided to throw ourselves at the mercy of South West trains (and their ability to read a fixture list), and the somewhat patchy allocation of ladies’ toilets at Twickenham, and check out the ‘Big Game’.

I will be honest and admit that the main reason I opted for the rugby over the football was to check out some of Quins’ England contingent in the flesh, namely (deep breath): Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Ugo Monye, Danny Care, Jordan Turner-Hall and Mike Brown. (Plus perhaps one or two for the future – fly-half Ben Botica might have been born in Takapuna but he’s been widely tipped to join the likes of Brad Barritt, Dylan Hartley, and Manu Tuilagi in the ‘plastic English’ corner of the dressing room in TW2.) Quins are the reigning Premiership champions so perhaps it’s no surprise that their best players are no strangers to HQ.

Then there’s London Irish, who aren’t having a great season, and who haven’t been quite the same since losing attack coach Mike Catt to the RFU. They’ve also lost some pretty good players since I last schlepped out to Reading to see them play (the Aviva Premiership names some of its teams in the same spirit of geographical accuracy as Ryanair advertises its ‘destination airports’). Former captain ‘Big’ Bob Casey has retired. Nick Kennedy and the Armitage brothers now earn big bucks playing for Toulon, Shontayne Hape for Montpelier. Current England interest is in the likes of centre Jonathan Joseph, wing Topsy Ojo, and prop Alex Corbisiero (part of the front row that asked the All Blacks some serious questions in December).

Unfortunately, despite the potentially high quality of the teams, both struggled to rise to the occasion in the awful conditions. The game never really matched the pyrotechnics that greeted Quins as they ran out on the field in front of a sell-out 82,000 crowd. It was pretty cold, but worse than that was the rain, a sort of swirly mist that managed to rain upwards into the stands where we sat. It was never really a stage for champagne rugby of any sort, and the wet and slippery ball let to a multitude of handling errors from both teams. Both sides traded penalties to end the first half at 6-6.

Twickers through the rain.

Some of these errors notably came from Nick Evans, probably because I jinxed him shortly before kick off by proclaiming him the best fly half in the Premiership. Fumbles and missed kicks apart, however, I would stand by that, and he also did much that was good, including one beautiful reverse pass that showed a tantalising glimpse of what this team can offer on a good day.

Conditions such as these often favour the big boys on the field, and, a well taken try from Danny Care apart, today was no exception. What was exceptional was the extent of the dominance exerted by the Quins scrum. Loosehead prop Joe Marler may have lost his England place of late but he has to be one of the most consistent performers in the Premiership. Quins got a good half of their penalties from the scrum, and then in the dying minutes scored a well earned penalty try, denying the Exiles a bonus point as they again demolished the set piece.

The result leaves London Irish in pretty poor shape – and sees their third consecutive Premiership game without scoring a try. Second from bottom of the league table, they are a mere point ahead of fellow strugglers Sale, and eight behind London Welsh. They put on a spirited display, and their determination and hustle may prove more profitable against mid-table teams – but they still seem worryingly poor at the fundamental skill of putting points on the board.

As for Quins, the win means they finish 2012 at the top of the Premiership table, the same position they were in last year. It’s often said that a sign of a good team is being able to grind out results like these – and based on the character of this display I would think that Quins are again strongly in the running for the Premiership title. They’ve come a long way since the relegation issues and ‘Bloodgate’ of even a few years ago. I imagine those with longer memories than me are pinching themselves in disbelief.

Mark Cavendish writes to Santa Claus

As imagined by me, currently at home on the Isle of Man in the rain.

Dear Santa

I think I’ve been pretty good this year so here’s my list.  After all, I’ve been pretty conspicuous in the rainbow jersey, you’d have soon noticed if I wasn’t behaving myself. 

Obviously the 14 victories I notched up, the best haul by the rainbow jersey wearer since Tom Boonen in 2006, speak for themselves.  I also think I put in a great shift in the Tour de France riding in support of Wiggo’s bid for GC glory – when was the last time you saw the reigning World Champion work as a domestique for the teamleader, hauling water bottles and raincapes round over the mountains? And despite the team being set up to support the yellow jersey, I still managed to get three stage wins.  Get in.

That’s me, in case you’re confusing me with any other British cycling superstars.

I do acknowledge that I was a bit hacked off about the Olympics, and probably wasn’t at my most diplomatic in the interviews afterwards, but honestly, Santa, if you’d had your tactics deliberately stymied by all the other teams like that you’d be fuming. And frankly I’d like to see you try even one lap of Box Hill and then be at your media trained best.  So please, give me a break.

But Santa I feel we’re on the same page. We’re both very fast, for starters. At your peak, I’ve heard that you travel at 10,703,437.5 km/hr, or about 1,800 miles per second, in order to travel the 510,000,000km around the world in 32 hours across time zones on Christmas Eve. Now I don’t go quite as fast as that, but I’m not far off, and to be honest I’d bet you’d slow down considerably if you had to fly in a bunch sprint like I do. My skill is in finding the gaps, whereas you’d be rubbish at that. But still that speed is something we’ve got in common, so hopefully you can spare a few presents from one fast operator to another.

  • A few selection boxes, for starters. I’ve worked really hard to keep my weight down so I can get over those moutains more easily, but if you can’t have a bit of a blowout at Christmas when can you. If there’s any left over I’ll give them to Tom Boonen.
  • A Christmas card from Tom Boonen promising to concentrate on the Classics. Now obviously I’m confident that the Manx Missile is faster than Tornado Tom, but I’ve already spent a season in a team with mixed priorities and competing leadership claims, and I’m not going there again.
  • Now I’ve moved to Omega Pharma Quickstep the one thing I really want is amazing team support and a supersonic leadout train. I think I might miss Bernie Eisel, who’s staying at Sky, but hopefully with the likes of Peter and Martin Velits, Bert Grabsch and Tony Martin we should be in pretty good shape.
  • A nice watch catalogue. As you may know I like to recognise my teammates’ efforts by buying them gifts. I bought so many watches at HTC and Sky that at times the team bus resembled the duty free jewellery section at Geneva airport. I’m planning on buying a lot more watches so a bit of inspiration would be nice, and something to flick through on the plane back from the island.
  • It’s been a pretty torrid time for the sport that I love, so I’m asking for clean opposition and a scandal free year. You might need to police this one quite carefully Santa because the Tour de France route this year looks vicious.
  • The original film of that godawful shampoo advert I did.
  • Finally, cycling’s a sport of pretty fine margins – sometimes things go my way, sometimes they don’t. I’m OK with that. All I’m asking for is a bit of luck to stay safe for the season.

I’ve heard that in the past certain riders used to send a request for ‘yellow jersey in the Tour de France‘ and then leave you a few vials of EPO and a mince pie on Christmas Eve. Well I’m not going to do that – although you can have some Manx Knobs and a bottle of Lucozade – if you can just deliver the above then I’ll take care of the results.

Thanks Santa!

Cav

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sports Personality of the Year 2012 – preview part 3

Unsurprisingly, my tip for the winner is the overwhelming bookies’ favourite…

1.  Bradley Wiggins

For me, he sealed this award standing on the Champs Elysees as the first Brit to win the Tour de France – union jack tied stylishly round his neck, sideburns resplendent in the Paris sun, he greeted the adulation and acknowledged his groundbreaking success by saying: ‘We’re just going to draw the raffle numbers now…

Wiggo of course did it again at the Olympics, first putting in a good shift in support of Cav’s (unsuccessful) bid for gold in the road race, before blitzing the field to win gold in the time trial.  (And it helped that this was one of GB’s first golds, much needed at a time when the British public was starting to get a bit jittery about our lack of success.)

If anything the man might be getting a bit overexposed – I saw a T-shirt the other day saying ‘I was a cyclist before Wiggo won‘.  And he has some vocal critics in some corners – some people are convinced that he denied Chris Froome the chance to win the Tour (or at the least a stage win on stage 17 in Peyragudes), others disappointed that he declined to face up to a fully fit Tony Martin in the World Championship time trial.

So why am I tipping him to follow Cav’s victory last year and make it a one-two for cycling?

  • He’s Britain’s first winner of the Tour de France but he’s no flash in the pan – although his recent achievements on the road have brought great recognition, they’re actually all the more impressive for being preceded by a stellar career on the track.  He has 7 Olympic medals, 4 of them gold – a haul only bettered by fellow cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.
  • He seems to a be a nice guy and a team player – I can’t remember the last time I saw the yellow jersey leading out a sprinter’s train in Paris, as he did for Mark Cavendish.
  • He also won fans amongst cycling afficionados with his sense of sportsmanship – the French press dubbed him ‘Le Gentleman’ after slowing the peloton on stage 14, rather than attacking, when one of his main rivals Cadel Evans suffered a puncture when spectators sabotaged the stage by throwing carpet tacks on the road.  (Incidentally, the rider who perhaps had the most to lose by that act of sportsmanship was also one of the first to assent to it: take a bow, Vincenzo Nibali.  Much respect.)
  • He’s outspoken against doping in sport and looks like a convincingly clean winner.  (As one of my friends said, he’s either won the Tour clean, or he’s on rubbish drugs.)  Cycling needs a new generation of clean riders to inspire confidence after the recent Armstrong relevations.
  • Along with all the sporting success, he has done something that all cyclists can relate to, that is, get knocked off his bike by a white van driver.
  • He makes sideburns look good.

So Wiggo’s my pick to win – but who gets my vote?  Well sorry Wiggo, but my vote actually goes to…

Katherine Grainger

Obviously we all gravitate to our own sport, so for me that’s rowing, but you have to respect Grainger’s achievements even if you don’t know one end of an oar from another.

Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger afte by J Dee, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  J Dee 

Grainger, right, after finally winning that elusive gold.

The headline achievement is that she is the first British woman to win medals at four consecutive Olympics – but that’s actually one of the least interesting things about her.  To get the heart of her appeal, you need to take those medals one by one.

She kicked things off in the crew that won Britain’s first Olympic medal in women’s rowing, winning a silver in the quad sculls in Sydney in 2000.  That was when silver represented success.

She was back in a boat in Athens in 2004, this time in the coxless pairs.  That time round, she secured another silver medal.  That silver was more… solid, a good achievement, but it was a bit of a shame not to move on from the euphoria of the first.

So third time lucky for the gold, perhaps?  In Beijing in 2008 she returned to the quad sculls, only to be narrowly beaten by a Chinese crew in the final.  Silver meant second-best – a crushing disappointment.

Rowing’s a hard sport.  Obviously: all the endurance sports are hard.  But rowing uses more muscles than any sport apart from cross country skiing.  It’s also made much harder by the fact that, in an activity where you need enormous amounts of oxygen, the very action of the rowing stroke compresses the trunk at the catch, impeding the movement of the diaphragm.  If you don’t believe me, try a 2000m time trial on the indoor rowing machine at the gym.  You’ll find it feels OK to begin with – but then after maybe a minute every single stroke just gets exponentially harder and harder.

If you’re going to succeed at the highest levels, you need to also need to commit and push yourself to the limit.  Elite rowers will time a race so that the stroke that takes them over the finish line is the last stroke they are physically able to take.

It’s also a technically difficult sport.  I wasn’t a bad rower, but in one of my first outings in a single scull I had barely got out to the coldest and deepest part of the river before capsizing.  The different boat classes are very different – from the solo determination and finesse of a single scull, to the teamwork and thundering power of an eight.  Remarkably, Grainger has won medals in all of the Olympics events for women, including sweep (pair and eight) and sculls (single, double, quad).

The training is hard as well – lots of miles in the boat and in the gym, sat on rowing machines or paddling up and down the same stretch of water, doing the same motions again, and again.  All in search of the technically perfect stroke, while building your muscular and aerobic fitness.

So after some 12 years of training and competition at the highest level, collecting three Olympic silvers and six World Championship golds, you couldn’t really blame Grainger if she decided to call it a day.

Well, as my old coach used to say, losers quit when they’re tired, but winners quit when they’ve won.

I obviously have a huge amount of respect for all elite rowers.  But Grainger stands out for me, simply for having the guts, determination, and perseverance to come back for one Olympic cycle after another in a quest to win the ultimate prize.

And then, in a glorious regatta at a home Olympics in front of a rapturous crowd, she did it.

I think that makes for pretty good television.

But whoever wins, and whatever its flaws, I do like SPOTY.  Earl Warren once said, ‘I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments.  The front page has nothing but man’s failures’.  I’m looking forward to revelling in so many wonderful accomplishments on Sunday night.

Sports Personality of the Year 2012 – preview part 2

So following on from Sunday’s post, here are the rest of my predictions.

4.  Rory McIlroy

I don’t play golf, don’t follow it, and don’t particularly enjoy watching it when it’s on – but even I know that McIlroy won at the US PGA Championship and was part of Europe’s spectacular comeback to win the Ryder Cup.  Golf’s a popular sport so he’ll have a decent following, but perhaps the lack of Olympic lustre will prove too much this year.

3. Jessica Ennis

She was on the cover of Time, she’s buff, and she’s from up north, what’s not to like?  The poster girl of the London games for so long, some worried that the weight of expectation and pressure may be too much for her.  But she delivered, and in style.  In her first event, the 100m hurdles, she ran the fastest ever time for that an event in a heptathlon.  By the time of the final event, the 800m, all she had to do to secure gold was finish, that is, not fall over.  Ennis took the race by the scruff of the neck and crossed the line first.  Perhaps the most popular gold of the games.

Ennis also kicked off something of a gold rush for GB in the Olympic Stadium, with Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah winning their events in the same hour.  She even helped other nationalities to success, with Australian long jumper Mitchell Watt explaining how he did his silver medal winning jump: ‘I just pretended I was British for about 30 seconds’.

The reason I’m not putting her any higher in because, while still recognising the hard work and dedication that goes into every medal, the path to GB heptathlon gold is pretty well trodden and her achievement, unlike others on this list, wasn’t particularly ground breaking.  Ennis is the latest in a long line of British success in this event, from Denise Lewis (Bronze, Atlanta 1996; Gold, Sydney 2000), Kelly Sotherton (Bronze, Athens 2004; fourth, Beijing 2008), to… well, who’s next?  Katarina Johnson-Thompson in 2016 perhaps?

2. Mo Farah

Now I must confess that I like Mo Farah partly because it’s fun shouting ‘Go Mo!’ at the TV. He also gets points (and surely votes) for the ‘Mo-Bot’, his celebratory pose that rivals Usain Bolt’s lightning strike as the most iconic image of of the athletics meet at London 2012.

My two favourite things about him are 1) that he agreed to do his trademark ‘Mo-Bot’ celebration after a suggestion made when he appeared on a UK quiz show, and 2) after he won we all had great fun with mock Daily Mail headlines like the one below, courtesy of @Beardedgenius on Twitter.

daily-mail-mo-farah-funny

More seriously though, when he took the 10,000 gold he was the first Briton to take a long distance gold at the Olympics. In adding the 5,000 gold a week later he joined a select band of elite runners to have the double. Following on from his silver medal in the 10,000 metres at the World Championships in Daegu in 2011, when he was agonisingly pipped to gold in the final metres, his brilliant two gold medals have made him, in my opinion, a bona fide superstar. I wouldn’t get too carried away with the all talk of ‘GB breaking Africa’s hegemony on the long distance events’ – the dude was born in Somalia after all – but it’s a great achievement and he seems a very likeable character (or personality, perhaps?). I think he’ll come in a surprisingly close second.

So who am I tipping as the winner, and who gets my vote?  Part 3 to follow.

Sports Personality of the Year 2012 – preview part 1

Fulham aren’t playing until Monday night, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to preview next weekend’s shameless BBC filler I mean sporting television extravaganza, that is the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award – simultaneously one of my most and least favourite things in the sporting calendar.

It’s an odd concept, isn’t it, an award for ‘Sports’ and ‘Personality’. Some of the best sportsmen (and women) of our time seemed to have little to no discernible personality whatsoever, or, if they did, were the sort of ruthless, selfish, stubborn, one track minded bores you would go out of your way to avoid spending time with. And of course unless you knew them personally, you wouldn’t actually know one way or the other.

I decided to do a bit of digging around to find the criteria as I was confused as to how ‘personality’ really fit into it. I settled for this from the BBC website:

The rules of engagement required the Panel to select a shortlist of 12 sportspeople on the basis of the following criteria:
• reflects UK sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage;
• represents the breadth and depth of UK sports; and
• takes into account ‘impact’ over and beyond the sport or sporting achievement in question.
The Panel had the right to amend the criteria for the main award (as well as the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year, Team of the Year and/or Coach of the Year – see below) should there be unanimous agreement amongst panel members to do so.

So my own interpretation of all that is that we’re trying to find someone whose achievements strike a deeper chord than just ‘winning a major’, for example – it’s someone who you were genuinely impressed by and perhaps even pleased for them as an individual. That, or it’s someone who’s made for good telly in the past year.

In a year like 2012 then you’re going to be spoilt for choice, and this is probably one of the most impressive shortlists in recent years. It’s just too close to call. So obviously this is where I put my neck on the line and predict the eventual look of the top 6, following a public vote.

Now I think that in a year when we’ve had the eyes of the entire world upon our capital for the Olympics, we should be able to find a SPOTY winner who’s known internationally as well. So without wanting to belittle the very worthy achievements of Nicola Adams, Ben Ainslie, Katherine Grainger, Sir Chris Hoy, Sarah Storey, and David Weir, as a rough guess I think we’re left with the following.

6. Ellie Simmonds
It’s often seen as something of an afterthought to the Olympics, but this year’s Paralympics saw sell out venues and had the national enthralled. We were treated to countless inspiring performances from our GB athletes, three of whom make the shortlist for SPOTY: David Weir, Sarah Storey, and Ellie Simmonds. Out of those three I’m going for Ellie Simmonds, whose enormous smile and charm (personality, even) won us all over – in my house we would actually stop what we were doing to watch when she was on. Oh, and she’s a very good swimmer as well, finally giving us some home-grown success to cheer on in the aquatic centre after a pretty lacklustre showing from our Olympians.

IMG_5028

Cheer up, Andy, you’ll be a shoe-in when you win Wimbledon.

5. Andy Murray
Murray seems oddly unpopular in this country. You often see comments on message boards and the like that he is somehow disqualified from the likes of SPOTY as he has no ‘personality’. Well, leaving aside the question of how all these anonymous experts actually know that, I suspect that much of the antagonism stems from two comments he made very early on his career. The first was ‘I’m not English, I’m Scottish’. This is a straightforward statement of fact but it seemed to rile some people. The second was when he was asked by a reporter who he would be supporting in the upcoming Euro 2004 football championship, this being a bit of a dig at the fact that Scotland hadn’t qualified for the tournament. Murray, perhaps trying to show a bit of the ‘personality’ that his detractors now seem to crave, shot back, ‘anyone playing you lot [England]’. Now, I think most of our Celtic neighbours will automatically support England’s opponents in any sport as a matter of principle – but Murray admitting it was a step too far for the home counties. I still talk to people who are adamant that Murray is openly ‘anti-English’, and that he needs to somehow made amends, but when challenged the best they can dredge up from Google is the aforementioned bit of banter. It’s time to give him a break.

So is this the year to do it? Making the final at Wimbledon, then teaming up with Laura Robson for a silver in the mixed doubles at the Olympics, while beating Djokovic and then Federer to secure Olympic gold in the singles, then finally winning his first grand slam event at the US Open, becoming Britain’s first major tennis champion in 76 years – Murray’s had a good year and is developing as a player all the time. However I’m deducting him ‘London 2012 points’ on the grounds that tennis isn’t a proper Olympic sport anyway. And with the Scotland vote being split between him and Sir Chris Hoy I think he could be quite far down the rankings.

My prediction for numbers 4 to 1, plus my own vote, to follow in a few days.

England 38 – 21 New Zealand

Before yesterday’s match, England hadn’t beaten the All Blacks for nearly ten years, and very few people expected that to change.

What were you doing in the summer of 2003, when England last beat New Zealand?  It was a pretty different world back then.  It was the summer I graduated from university and was cast adrift into the big bad world.  The war in Iraq had started only a few months beforehand and still had popular support – from memory the truth about the ‘dodgy dossier’ about those pesky WMDs was only slowly starting to come to light.

In other sport, Arsenal won the Premier League in some style, while Fulham, returning to the top flight after 33 years in the lower leagues, finished 13th.  Roger Federer won his first career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, in what was to be the first of five consecutive Wimbledon titles.  In music, Evanescence were number one in the UK singles chart in June with Bring Me To Life, which no one now remembers (eventually knocked off the top spot by Beyonce and Jay-Z singing Crazy in Love, which is probably more familiar – it wasn’t all bad).  The big film of the year was Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which swept all before it at the box office and at award ceremonies.

Much more strangely than all of this, however, back in 2003 were England were a genuine force in world rugby.  Their 15-13 win in Wellington, en route to a thrilling World Cup win some four months later, confirmed their reputation as then the world’s number one ranked team.  It was certainly enough to inspire a bit of tall poppy syndrome down under, with England being labelled ‘boring’ and, more memorably, a bunch of ‘white orcs on steroids’ (like I said, Lord of the Rings was big).

After that World Cup win, coach Sir Clive Woodward left the RFU, drop goal hero Jonny Wilkinson suffered the first of his many, many injuries, and England started to lose their way a bit.  Their Six Nations Grand Slam triumph of 2003 started to look a distant memory as they toiled in northern hemisphere competition.  Somewhat strangely, they did make the final of the 2007 World Cup (and could even perhaps have won it, had Mark Cueto’s try not been wrongly disallowed), but even that didn’t distract from the fact that England had played like a drain in the early stages of the competition and the heady days of 2003 looked further and further away.

The All Blacks, on the other hand, went from strength to strength.  They were flexing their muscle most noticeably by 2005, with the ‘Blackwash’ of the British and Irish Lions on their tour of New Zealand.  The only chink in their armour seemed to be their considerable mental frailty: not always the best on big occasions, they most famously choked in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup against France.  They also did their best to choke against the same team in the final of the 2011 World Cup – but held on to lift the trophy on home soil and in doing so cap an impressive period of dominance against, well, the rest of the world. 

ALL BLACKS by Zanthia, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Zanthia 

The All Blacks have definitely made their mark on the international rugby landscape in recent years.

New Zealand had delivered much of the same in 2012: winning the inaugural Rugby Championship, and dispatching Scotland, Ireland, and Wales with ease. Unbeaten in their previous 20 test matches, they then came up against a disjointed, demoralised England side, looking very much a side in transition, and seemingly on the slide after defeats against Australia and South Africa. 

Who promptly went on to inflict the All Blacks’ second biggest margin of defeat ever.

My partner is from New Zealand and so we watched the match on TV expecting it to follow a well-established script – gutsy English defence scythed down by New Zealand’s sparkling skills and dynamic backs, with maestro Dan Carter pulling the strings with decisive kicks and big tackles.  New Zealand aren’t used to losing.  When it all started to go horribly wrong, part of me felt like I’d accidentally taken a small child to see Reservoir Dogs.

So what does this very unexpected blast from the past actually mean (apart from my possible impending divorce)?

Well, in the long run, possibly very little.  After all, England’s recent history has largely been one of false dawns and untapped promise.  While England played very well, and deserved the win, New Zealand were far from their usual efficient selves.  Very far.  It is hard to think of even northern hemisphere opposition that will miss kicks, make tactical errors, and fluff tackles to the extent that the All Blacks did on Saturday.

Also, while England have shown that a young, inexperienced side can go into a match as underdogs and play like they have nothing to lose, when it comes to the Six Nations in the spring they will now start amongst the favourites.  Good luck playing at the Millennium Stadium in front of the rabid home support in Cardiff with that weight of expectation on your shoulders.

There are however signs that England could use this as a launch pad to go on to greater things.

England Rugby Squad 2003 by BombDog, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  BombDog 

Could England aspire to return to happier times, like this victory parade in 2003? Check out a young Ben Cohen and Lawrence Dallaglio with the William Web Ellis Cup – and some hair!

The first indication of brighter things to come was the performance of Owen Farrell at fly-half.  Tom Wood was, deservedly, Man of the Match, and there were so many amazing individual performances, it may seem a bit odd to pick out Farrell.  But I will, because I thought he played a blinder.  A somewhat bewildering inclusion on the shortlist for the International Rugby Board’s Player of the Year award before Saturday, he was of England’s best players and contributed a healthy 17 points, including a drop goal of which Jonny Wilkinson himself would have been proud.  He’s young and has oodles of talent – and I like the look of him to make the England number 10 shirt his own in the coming years.

The second is that the England squad are starting to show some great strength in depth, as demonstrated on Saturday by a bench containing James Haskell, Courtney Lawes, and Danny Care.  There’s some real competition for places and early indicators are that a well-respected coaching team are making that pay dividends.

The third, and most encouraging, is the relative youth and inexperience of the team.  Before the game this was seen as a weakness.  Much was made of the fact that New Zealand’s captain, Richie McCaw, has more international caps than the entire England pack combined.  But when someone like Joe Launchbury is making those sort of tackles and playing with that sort of maturity at just 21, and showing signs of improving all the time, you have to think the future looks bright.

Elsewhere in West London, Fulham followed a solid if dull draw with Chelsea midweek with an uninspired 0-3 second half capitulation to Spurs.  But somehow, watching New Zealand score two tries in the space of three minutes and then seeing England immediately respond with two beautifully taken tries of their own, it just didn’t seem to matter.

Even if I’m wrong, and that England result is just a blip, it doesn’t take away from the fact that yesterday was an awesome achievement, and England fans can enjoy every moment.  Sorry darling.