UK media already attacking opposition

The England team is assisted by the media to intimidate referees and opposition, says columnist. Photo: Getty Images

The England team is assisted by the media to intimidate referees and opposition, says columnist. Photo: Getty Images

Fifth Column: a group of secret sympathisers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defence lines or national borders. (Merrim-Webster dictionary)

The most outrageous comment made during the phony war period leading up to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup on Saturday morning (AEST), with England playing Fiji at Twickenham, was Sir Clive Woodward’s accusation that South African referee Craig Joubert effectively robbed France of winning the Webb Ellis trophy in 2011.

“If I had been coach of France in that World Cup, I would still be apoplectic to this day,” Woodward told theRadio Times. “If that final had been refereed properly, France would have won.”

This is a disgraceful slur on a leading referee, arguably (with Nigel Owen) the best in world rugby. Woodward is saying Joubert refereed improperly. What was improper about his refereeing?

Woodward is wrong. As I pointed out in my long-form essay on Rugby World Cup 2011, where this matter is discussed more fully, Joubert awarded only 17 penalties in the final, 10 to the All Blacks and 7 to France. This ratio accurately reflected the run of play during the match. It was also the lowest number of penalties awarded in a Rugby World Cup final. The ball was in play for 39 minutes, a record for World Cup finals.

In refereeing an open and confrontational match, where play was managed for continuity rather than controlled for slow-plod penalties, Joubert fulfilled his brief from World Rugby, which was adamant that the tournament was not to be hobbled, as it was in 2007, by penalty-obsessed refereeing designed to stop the flow of attacking play.

Any implication from Woodward of bias is clearly refuted by the fact that Joubert awarded France an opportunity to kick a goal in the second half, when only a point separated the two teams. If Joubert was so determined to see the All Blacks win, as Woodward seemingly claims, why did he allow France this chance of winning the final?

Fiji practice at the London Irish Club grounds ahead of their match against England. Photo: Fiji Rugby

Fiji practice at the London Irish Club grounds ahead of their match against England. Photo: Fiji Rugby

Why has Woodward, then, decided to smear the reputation of a leading referee who is a strong candidate to referee the 2015 final (if the Springboks are not involved)?

Asking the question actually provides the answer to it. Woodward is putting pressure on Joubert, in anticipation of the possibility that he referees at Twickenham an important finals match involving England.

As the former All Black Ali Williams accurately pointed out to French paper L’Equipe, Twickenham is “the most hostile stadium there is. It’s worse than Pretoria. The atmosphere is vindictive”.

England’s coach, Stuart Lancaster, has already stated that he regards “Fortress Twickenham”, the Twickenham crowd specifically, as his side’s 16th player, with their power to intimidate whoever is refereeing.

If Joubert has one of England’s finals (presuming they emerge from the pool of death), the hatred generated by Woodward’s attack will be unleashed on Joubert by the Fortress Twickenham crowd.

It should be noted here that the brilliant statistician Niven Winchester says that the odds favour an All Blacks versus England final in 2015. The All Blacks, according to the Winchester analysis, have a 47 per cent chance of winning the tournament. England, with a 22 per cent chance, are the second favourites.

The Welsh play against Ireland in the Six Nation competition.

The Welsh play against Ireland in the Six Nation competition.

A significant part of this mark comes from the fact that England’s home ground advantage is worth four points on the Winchester scale!

The irony in all this is that Woodward, as England’s coach in Rugby World Cup 2003, condoned real cheating by his team when an official was overruled by conditioner David Reddin and England kept 16 players on the field against Samoa.

England really should have forfeited their win points for this deliberate illegality.

Then in World Cup 2011, Woodward and England’s other rugby writers – England’s fifth columnists in my view – had nothing to say about the most blatant example of cheating I have ever observed.

I refer, of course, to the way England’s kicking coach Dave Alred and conditioning coach Paul Stridgeon provided Jonny Wilkinson with practice balls when he kicked two conversions in the match against Romania at Dunedin.

When the scandal broke, the Rugby World Cup committee prevented the two assistants from attending the ground during match day. This was punishment by thrashing with a feather. England did not lose any tournament points.

England's Sam Burgess in action against France. Photo: Reuters

England’s Sam Burgess in action against France. Photo: Reuters

England’s fifth columnists did not try to find out whether Wilkinson had any knowledge that the match balls were being swapped. Wilkinson was allowed to say “no comment”.

Wilkinson should have been booted out of the tournament for this flagrant breach of law 9.8.1, which states that kicks at goal must be with the ball used in the relevant play. `

This lack of interest in real cheating is in contrast to the England fifth columnists’ attacks on the Wallabies and All Blacks loose forwards for alleged “cheating” at the breakdown, an incessant and vitriolic attack that occurs every World Cup.

And let us not forget the incessant and vitriolic attacks of “cheating” from the fifth columnists against Rod Macqueen’s Wallabies’ pioneering use of the two-lined back attack, an attack that is standard practice for all rugby teams, including England.

In the week leading up to the England vs Australia game on October 3, to be refereed by Frenchman Romain Poite, expect to see a cacophony of cheating complaints against the Wallabies from England’s fifth columnists.

Ian Jones, the lanky All Blacks lineout jumper and now a respected commentator, told a New Zealand audience recently that the All Blacks will need to watch out for the British media.

Stuff.co.nz reported Jones saying the British media “will attack, attack and attack again”.

Australia’'s Henry Speight is tackled by New Zealand’s Dan Coles during their Bledisloe Cup rugby match in Auckland. Photo: AP

Australia’’s Henry Speight is tackled by New Zealand’s Dan Coles during their Bledisloe Cup rugby match in Auckland. Photo: AP

They’ll bag the haka, he says. They’ll call the All Blacks cheats. They will, as Sir Clive Woodward had already done, say the All Blacks were lucky to have won in 2011. They’ll say they’re boorish and arrogant.

For ‘All Blacks’ read: ‘Wallabies’ when the time is deemed appropriate by England’s fifth columnists.

If the Wallabies look at all threatening to England and Wales, they can expect the same sort of invective that will be thrown at New Zealand.

This England fifth columnist system is a variation on the traditional method: concentrate on sabotaging the opponents, rather than England. But the elements of the sabotage tactics remain the same.

I first twigged to this system of undermining England’s opponents with “attack, attack and attack again” on everything about them on and off the field at a Wallabies vs England Test at the then-Olympic Stadium over a decade ago.

After the Test I wandered through the reporters’ area and was surprised to see a group of leading British rugby writers talking together in a group. I eavesdropped on their conversation to discover they were discussing what they were going to say about the referee (derogatory, of course), and England’s heroic performance in trying to overcome the referee’s prejudice and so on.

In other words, they worked as a pack to attack what they deemed to be England’s nemesis.

This is in contrast with the Australian system, where rugby writers work as lone wolves. Our main motivation is to provide to our readers, as best we can, with what is happening and why it is happening. Whether this helps the Wallabies or somehow exposes their weaknesses is beside the point.

We do not see ourselves as our country’s 16th player, as the fifth columnists clearly do.

Prince Harry chats with Lawrence Dallaglio and George Gregan in a World Rugby function in London. Photo: Daily Mail

Prince Harry chats with Lawrence Dallaglio and George Gregan in a World Rugby function in London. Photo: Daily Mail

In over 20 years of writing together about rugby on the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden and I never discussed what we were going to write.

This separation of rugby power-brokers (in the case of Growden and myself) and is even more entrenched between newspapers.

In fact, so competitive are the rugby writers that most of them (and I am one) will not even ask questions at media conferences held after a Test.

We prefer to go up to the coach or his assistants and ask them something in private. We do not hunt, like the fifth columnists, on a campaign to undermine the integrity of England’s opponents.

The Wallabies are based in Bath, out of London, and well away from the England fifth columnist pack. Good. Michael Cheika should insist, as well, that constant tweeters like Quade Cooper put away their phones.

Don’t give the fifth columnists even a skerrick of news to blow up into a crisis for England’s potential opponents. A French journalist has tweeted that Croydon, where Les Bleus are training, is a “dull, grey, sad suburb”. And now there are headlines in the UK Telegraph accusing the “French” of making the accusation.

Oh dear, the beat-ups to undermine England’s opponents have started.

On a rugby note, England have named the same side that recently defeated Ireland at Twickenham to play their opening match of World Cup against Fiji. It is a strong side that should be formidable throughout the tournament. And too strong and powerful, especially in the set pieces, for Fiji.

Fiji coach John McKee faces the English media after a training session in London. Photo: Fiji Rugby

Fiji coach John McKee faces the English media after a training session in London. Photo: Fiji Rugby

The back four are fast and abrasive. Inside centre Brad Barritt is as tough as concrete. George Ford and Ben Youngs are clever halves. The back five are tough and mobile, with Ben Morgan providing a cannon-ball attacking force in the middle of the field. The front row has struggled in the scrums in the warm-up matches, especially against France, but the pack as a group is experienced and has the traditional bully-boy swagger about its play.

Stuart Lancaster got his players together over the weekend and told them that the chance to open the 2015 Rugby World Cup against Fiji gave England “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “maximise home advantage”.

He went on: “The energy a crowd can give the team makes it doubly difficult for the opposition.”

He would say that, wouldn’t he…

  • Spiro Zavos, Roar

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