The thought struck me during the England v France RWC semi-final: it’s as bad as watching soccer, only with the fans’ brutality allowed on the pitch.

Like England v Australia the week before, it was the same generally tedious kicking duel with serious scurries of activity and contest but generally not much happening on any grand scale. With just one try in each game, the scoring was mostly done with the boot as well. And there’s plenty more happening in a soccer goal than a rugby player lining up yet another penalty.

Unlike last week, England didn’t deserve to win. The French played better rugby but still battered themselves to a loss against the England defensive wall. What goes around, comes around – last weekend it was the French playing the lesser game but still scraping through.

Fairfax CEO-cum-rugby-writer David Kirk nailed it thus: “This England team does not have a wide range of skills but the skills they do have are some of the most important ones in rugby. Stopping the other team playing may sound like a negative approach to rugby but it takes a lot of discipline and skill to keep doing it for 80 minutes and that is exactly what England did.”

In fact, England has done it for 160 minutes on the trot. But can they do it for 240 minutes and win consecutive World Cups?

After admitting that this is the cup of upsets and with the qualification that the game is played in the head, you’d have say probably not. Next weekend the rose thorns come up against a much more complete team than Australia or France. The Springboks have a forward pack to match the English scrum and the world’s best lineout. That’s supported by backs capable of more than tackling and Percy Montgomery’s boot has been shooting straighter than Wilkinson’s lately.

Indeed, the defining images of the Boks’ victory yesterday morning over the Pumas were Victor Matfield head, shoulders and long arms above the Argentine lineout and Bryan Habana’s grin as he scored two tries.

It is bemusing that both the final and the irrelevant play-off for 3rd and 4th feature rematches of pool games. For the game in the head, the Springboks have to be smart enough to totally erase any memory of beating England 36-0 a month ago, while the French need to seek revenge for their pool loss if they going to mentally turn up to defeat Argentina.

And then there’s that email doing the rounds: Q: What do you call the play-off for 7th and 8th place? A: The Bledisloe Cup.

Peter Fray

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