England’s World Cup campaign was one of controversy both on and off the pitch. With a series of poor displays that lacked any imagination being accompanied by accusations of late night antics that would have made their football peers proud.
A nervous start against an ageing Argentine team did little to inspire confidence with Andrew Sheridan’s shoulder injury compounding the misery. The antics of stand-in-captain Mike Tindall in a bar following the game were probably blown out of proportion, but they were seized upon by a fearless New Zealand media looking for blood and it wasn’t long before our own wonderful tabloids picked up the thread. This only served to further undermine England’s campaign. They staggered from controversy to another laboured effort against Georgia, yet an improved performance against Romania did follow. Martin Johnson’s team ran in ten tries through the likes of Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton who both bagged hat-tricks. Yet trouble was not far behind as two coaches faced IRB sanctions for switching balls in an attempt to improve Johnny Wilkinson’s dire goal kicking. England’s final group game against Scotland saw another lacklustre performance with the side on the brink of defeat until Ashton’s late score.
Despite the disappointment of the group stages there was optimism going into the quarter final stage, to face France. The likes of Manu Tuilagi and James Haskell had been bright lights for England in the pool stages and it was hoped they would inspire their underperforming colleagues. The sight of the brilliant Haskell warming the bench should have set alarm bells ringing before the game even began. It was the same story, with numerous unforced errors allowing the incisive French backline to cross the English try-line twice before half time, Vincent Clerc and Maxine Medard proving to be the stars. Despite a much-improved second half performance which saw Ben Foden and old warrior Cueto cross for tries, it was all in vain. The sound of the final whistle saw England eliminated, bringing an end to a disappointing campaign more memorable for controversy than any of the rugby played.
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