Maria & I went on an ‘Engaging with Scripture’ day retreat yesterday – out in Perthshire, one of Scotland’s prettiest spaces – and were therefore saved from ten hours of anticipatory rugby nerves in the name of doing interesting things with the Bible (I ‘meditated’ on Job 33:4 splashing around in the swimming pool). A really really good day for me.
And so on to the rugby. By the time we’d made it to the end, Maria, Clare, Debra & I didn’t really have any energy left to actually enjoy the victory, and that’s only one of the reasons why it feels weird to be in the World Cup Final.
The thing is, and I know that everyone knows this, but this England team are not one of the best two teams in the world. We’re not even in the top 5, I’d say. And the players know that – they know that if they played a type of rugby that pits 15 individuals against 15 individuals, we’d lose. We’d have lost against Australia, against France, and against whoever we’ll play next Saturday. Instead, we’re like South Korea reaching the World Cup semi-finals the other year, doing it by hard work, team effort and by cutting out all our weak options, while stifling the oppositions’ strengths.
And it makes me feel guilty!
There are much, much better collections of players in this World Cup, and it seems a shame that they won’t be rewarded for their abilities (France had been my prediction for champions before it started, by the way). We’ve found a way to win games that everyone (particularly Tri-Nations people) deride as dull, but if we played any other way we’d lose! You can’t fault the common sense in choosing not to play to the crowd …
And now we’re in the final. I don’t think we’ll win it (just as I thought we’d lose the last two), but there’s no reason not to expect that. The thing is, I’d like England to be the best team in the world, not just the best knock-out team in the world (which we probably are).
Winning the World Cup should be the crowning achievement for a truly great team (as in 2003), not just a successful conquest. So instead, I’d like to think of these few weeks as a building block: in 4 or 8 years, maybe we will have a truly great team; one that has built on these fantastic foundations, but has learned to be aesthetically thrilling as well as gritty and successful.
At the moment, they are showing the world how little ability you need if your performances are wholehearted, but I’d like the World Cup to take something a bit more special than a few drop-goals to win.