Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson finds that Internet outrage over Lawrence Dallaglio’s pro-England comments is a pain in the posterior
I saw some pretty industrial language being used on Facebook today and all of it was directed at Lawrence Dallaglio. Fair enough on the surface, perhaps. Dallaglio does have an uncanny knack of getting up people’s noses. And as in his playing days, you suspect that he positively relishes the process. But why today in particular? Well, it was because of something the former England Number 8 said on BBC television after Wales had clinched their third Six Nations Grand Slam in seven years and England had recorded a fourth victory of the tournament over a shambolic Ireland – and on St. Patrick’s Day at that! For Dallaglio the story of the 2012 Six Nations was England’s resurgence, not Wales’ winning run to glory. And this point of view certainly got up the noses of any number of, I suspect, non-English rugby fans.
“Typical English arrogance” said a load of folk who all sounded like they’d have taken great pleasure in doling out a good kicking to the English when all was not well within the Red Rose camp. No matter. And far be it from me to side with Dallaglio as a matter of course. He is, after all, a man I always found it immensely hard to warm to as a player; his great jaw sticking out in a cocksure strut of defiance, the look on his face one of feigned surprise and incomprehension whenever a decision went against him. But to unleash such a torrent of bile over what was to all intents and purposes a fairly innocuous opinion, seemed to me wholly derived from that all-too-pervasive ‘ABE’ (Anyone But England) attitude that exists within a sizable minority of all of the other Six Nations participants. Why wasn’t I surprised when some French friends of mine recently returned from watching their side win at Murrayfield to tell me what a great time they’d had slagging off the English with their Scottish hosts?
The facts of the matter are this. Wales were fantastic throughout the tournament. They were able to manage expectations as tournament favourites and delivered every time they took to the field. Winning a Grand Slam is never easy, even in a year which no-one could ever claim to be a vintage one. Wales deserved to finish on top of the pile. But what is also true is that England’s feat of winning four and losing one – to the eventual champions, remember – in circumstances that couldn’t have been tighter deserves special mention. Was England’s resurgence the story of the tournament? Maybe, maybe not. But to suggest that the team’s exploits, made flesh by a brand new group of inexperienced players and directed an Interim Head Coach who didn’t know what job he’d be doing the day after the tournament finished, could in no way be seen as of equal significance in comparison with Wales’ wholly expected triumph is just willfully reactionary. Of course you can make a claim for it being the single most significant story of the 2012 Six Nations. Of course you can!
And if you still don’t believe me, then consider this. When England ran out onto the field for their final game against the Irish the TV commentator said something along the lines of the fact that were there to be a British & Irish Lions squad being assembled right now, there was a good chance that not a single Englishman would feature in the starting XV. That’s possibly true. For every Ben Foden there’s a Rob Kearney. For every Tom Croft a Dan Lydiate. For every Owen Farrell a Jonny Sexton. So if that’s the case, then England’s Six Nations performance must logically be seen as all the more impressive, all the more unlikely, all the more incredible. England are far from a team of misfits. But they are a new team, a young team, a team in the process of being built. No international victory is ever won without blood, sweat, courage, tactical nous and diligent planning. For a group that barely knew each other just eight weeks previously to have won four games and come within a whisker of beating a very, very good Welsh side is surely a phenomenal performance in the book of all but the most one-eyed.
Those supporters who reacted with such vitriol to the idea that England’s performances were more eyebrow-raising than those of the Welsh seem to me to be responding from a place of utter irrationality. It’s not an outrageous opinion. It’s simply an opinion you might not agree with. And Lord knows that’s not an outrageous point of view either. You’re allowed to disagree. But England’s performance was at least worthy of serious consideration as the single most gob-smacking element of the Six Nations. And I’d suggest that anyone who thinks such a view is absolutely disgraceful really needs to take a long, hard look at their own prejudices before giving vent to their feelings.
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