The Biggest Test of All; England Have to Watch out for Ambush

By Chadband, Ian | The Evening Standard (London, England), June 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Biggest Test of All; England Have to Watch out for Ambush


Chadband, Ian, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: IAN CHADBAND

IT has all felt a mite unnerving to be an Englishman in Melbourne this week. Australians telling you that their world rugby champions are underdogs in tomorrow's Test match . . .

their arch Pom-baiting coach Eddie Jones hailing us as the best team in the world . . . praise indeed being lavished on Johno and Jonny from all and sundry.

Strewth. After years of coming here to find our sacrificial lambs being mocked or pitied in equal measure, it's disconcerting to find this degree of admiration for English sporting prowess.

Notwithstanding the sensation that we're probably being lulled straight into an ambush, this outbreak of grudging respect only serves to highlight that England's rugby men are on the verge of a singularly magnificent achievement.

For if they beat the Wallabies in front of a 55,000 full-house in the Telstra Dome tomorrow to become the first northern hemisphere side in history to win back-to-back Tests in New Zealand and Australia, they can say unarguably, even if it's just for three months, that they are truly the best in the world.

When was the last time any national team representing England could make a boast like that? And in rugby itself ?

Perhaps never, such has been the southern hemisphere's timeless domination.

At the moment, it even feels as though it wouldn't matter if this same team returned here in October and saw a World Cup dream founder. Dismiss the thought of this being only a warm-up - victory tomorrow would demand to be celebrated in its own right, a flagpole to mark an incredible 15-month, 13-game ascent to the summit.

It began with a 50-point trouncing of Wales at Twickenham in March 2002, took in a hard-fought summer victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires and followed by an unprecedented trio of wins against the big three, including utter humiliation of the Springboks. Then came the Grand Slam, and last weekend the first win in All Black country for 30 years.

Fantastic, but still not enough.

It was tempting to see Wellington as the pinnacle, a feeling heightened by leaving an entire country wailing in black. Yet just because the Wallabies seem under-appreciated here, it's a dangerous illusion.

Forget the All Blacks, it's Australia who've won two of the last three World Cups and who've not lost against another national side here for three years.

Even though the Wallabies are deprived of many senior players through injury and are having to turn Nathan Grey into a makeshift fly-half, Lawrence Dallaglio still believes they have the capacity to be killjoys.

"We've begun to pride itself on breaking down barriers and this represents the ultimate challenge. If we lost, it would be a bitter taste to go into the break before the World Cup on a losing note," he pondered. …

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