JEFF POWELL: Bad losers doesn't cover it… The last image of England's Rugby World Cup team will be that of a sulking, spoiled bunch of over-grown children 

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  • England were favourites to win the World Cup but lost to South Africa 32-12
  • They refused to applaud the referee but ultimately let themselves down 
  • Eddie Jones’ men crossed their arms and sulked and will be seen as bad losers 
  • The coach set the example with his sly dig at Warren Gatland before the final
  • Inspired South Africa were playing for the trophy and the unity of their nation  

England's disappointment of losing the final is not an excuse for letting themselves down

England’s disappointment of losing the final is not an excuse for letting themselves down 

Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and captain Owen Farrell show their dismay after the defeat

Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and captain Owen Farrell show their dismay after the defeat

Farrell smirked during the Hakka but beaten New Zealand wished England well for the final

Farrell smirked during the Hakka but beaten New Zealand wished England well for the final

The Kiwis were gracious in defeat and clapped England off, wishing them well for their final

Billy Vunipola walks off the pitch covered in blood as England ponder their missed chance

Billy Vunipola walks off the pitch covered in blood as England ponder their missed chance

England players watch on as South Africa prepare to lift the trophy, most not wearing medals

England players watch on as South Africa prepare to lift the trophy, most not wearing medals

Led by captain Siya Kolisi, South Africa were playing for the unity of their once divided nation

Led by captain Siya Kolisi, South Africa were playing for the unity of their once divided nation

Cheslin Kolbe scores the second try for the Springboks to add gloss to their win over England

Cheslin Kolbe scores the second try for the Springboks to add gloss to their win over England

Mario Itoje, who called the loss the worst night of his life, walks off the pitch heartbroken

Mario Itoje, who called the loss the worst night of his life, walks off the pitch heartbroken

Eddie Jones set the example for England players and gave them a false aura of invincibility

Eddie Jones set the example for England players and gave them a false aura of invincibility

Jones said his team were 'finished' after the final and plans to rebuild for the Six Nations

Jones said his team were ‘finished’ after the final and plans to rebuild for the Six Nations

Willie le Roux and Frans Steyn toast to their success with their medals during the ceremony

Willie le Roux and Frans Steyn toast to their success with their medals during the ceremony

Farrell looked flat out on the grass after missing a tackle and watching Kolbe score the final try

Farrell looked flat out on the grass after missing a tackle and watching Kolbe score the final try

The 28-year-old returns to England empty handed as he and his team-mates land in the UK

The 28-year-old returns to England empty handed as he and his team-mates land in the UK

England players walk past the Webb Ellis trophy and they prepare to receive their medals

England players walk past the Webb Ellis trophy and they prepare to receive their medals

Ripping off their medals. Standing arms crossed and scowling as the South Africans were presented with theirs.

Failing to bow in unison by way of courteous farewell to the Japanese people who had bestowed upon them the privilege of playing on such a magnificent stage.

Pointedly refusing to applaud the referee who they thereby had the brass neck to try to blame for a defeat which was nobody’s fault but their own.

It is the last image which stays with us the longest and for millions of sports-lovers in this country the lingering memory of England at the Rugby World Cup is that of a sullen, sulking, spoiled bunch of over-grown children.

Bad losers doesn’t cover it. Petulance doesn’t come close. Disappointment is nowhere near an excuse for letting themselves down, letting us down, worst of all letting our nation down.

The rugby brotherhood, as is its wont, has spent the best part of a week trying to pass off this betrayal of grace with an airy wave of the hand and gushings of sympathy for their anguish at losing the biggest match of their lives.

Pass the sick bag. If this is the worst that ever happens to them they should count themselves very fortunate indeed.

Rugby used to be steeped in good sportsmanship, compassion in victory and, perhaps most importantly of all, generosity in defeat.

First and foremost, it was about playing the game. Followed by flagons of companionship downed by winners and losers together.

That respect has given way to self-serving ego and now, apparently, to the kind of money which is blamed for football’s malaise.

Four of England’s so-called stars – captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers – are key beneficiaries of the salary-cap scandal which has brought rugby’s super-club Saracens crashing down beneath huge points deductions and fines.

The investigation into this case was led by Sportsmail and it is disturbing that the findings of the official inquiry were delayed to prevent unsettling England’s World Cup campaign. How did that work out, gentlemen?

In light of this disgrace it is difficult not to suspect that much of the team’s brattishness was rooted in the loss of the £82,000 bonuses each stood to pocket had they become world champions.

That is no justification, either, for their surly behaviour. Nor for the grudging, back-handed congratulations to the South Africans which had to be dragged out of them by the post-match interviewers. You know how it went: ‘Well that’s the way choose to play but ok they did it well.’ New Zealand did not conduct themselves like that when England beat them in the semi-final.

Even though Farrell had smirked his insult at their Haka, the All Blacks smiled, embraced the victors, wished them well for the final and signed off from Japan by lining up for that traditional bow to their charming hosts. As did pretty well all the other teams.

Class.

And remember, the Kiwis lost the World Cup. England merely failed to win it, yet were bitter to boot.

That is the miserable impression they left behind in a country which not only put on a brilliant tournament but, to even greater surprise, offered more than England to the future of a game they have come late to love.

The rugby Japan played, at such lightning speed of hand and foot that it looked like a man-size Nintendo game, brought a new dimension to this sport. One which the old power-houses of Europe and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere will have to add to their repertoire if they are to stay ahead of the game.

England ended up an inferior version of South Africa’s muscularity, energy, brute strength and physicality, which is the core of both their traditions. That, by the way, despite a starting pack heavier than the Springboks.

This hints at lesser determination, heart and spirit in the game which mattered most. That and poorer tactical organisation, which will bring us to Eddie Jones in a moment.

The initial difference from England’s stand-out performance against the All Blacks was that they knew they had nothing to lose against the acknowledged masters of the rugby universe.

The real pressure came in a Final they were expected to win.

That they bought into that excess of optimism seemed apparent in signs of growing arrogance and creeping complacency during the intervening seven days.

Self-aggrandisement, self-importance, self-entitlement… so often is this the way with England teams entering the varying fields of sporting combat.

In common with the less discerning minority of the tens of thousands of their supporters who trekked to Tokyo, they drew a false equation from England beating New Zealand who had defeated South Africa.

Just because A beats B and C beats A it doesn’t necessarily mean that C beats B.

The Springboks were a different style proposition to the All Blacks. They were empowered also by a far higher sense of purpose.

Rallied by their first black captain, South Africa’s most racially integrated team yet were playing not just for their third World Cup but for the unity of their divided, strife torn nation, striving to inspire a belief that anything is possible for all to achieve. Even those from the poorest townships.

This was a lofty ambition which England failed utterly to comprehend in their hour of defeat. When Itoje called this the worst night of his life he had no understanding of Siya Kolisi saying that he grew up dreaming not of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy but of where his next meal might come from.

As for the head coach, Jones set the preening example. The sly digs at his old nemesis Warren Gatland, the smug grins after the semi-final, the false aura of invincibility, all ended in him being out-coached by South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus.

And while we’re at it, Mr Jones, where was Danny Cipriani when the critical moment came with England desperately needing to find a stroke of genius?

As for the money factor Eddie, after all, is an Aussie mercenary. There was no patriotic disappointment for him.

As England headed for home and a desultory welcome at Heathrow airport Jones made clear his distaste for ‘four more years kicking stones down the road.’ The RFU, keen though they are not only to hold him to the last two years of his contract but to keep him on to the next World Cup, should listen and cash him out now.

Probably he will stay on if they pay him enough but they should pay heed, too, when he puts into words the only thing he got right last weekend – this team is finished.

The harsh reality is that this England team has missed its moment and that precious few of even the younger guns will be as eager, intense and fired up almost half a decade hence. By then expect a free-flowing Franco-Japanese emergence of electrifying rugby at high velocity to have excited, invigorated and evolved the 15-man game, leaving England behind unless they are willing to adapt.

All the hype about the Jones boys being bigger, stronger, faster in France 2023 is as misplaced as the cheer-leading en route to and in Japan by some quarters of the media. This was redolent of the jingoism which surrounds England’s football teams as they set off for yet another World Cup flop.

Sir Clive Woodward, still England’s only Rugby World Cup-winning coach, was one of the few to warn against expectations of an easy win over the Springboks, not least in these pages. Although my old friend did not go quite so far as to predict a South African victory. How could he after England had ended the All Black supremacy?

That success might have remained in the forefront of English minds had their rugby as well as their conduct not ultimately let them down.

Instead, the final image of England playing in Japan is of Farrell flat out on the grass after missing a tackle on the smallest player on the pitch, looking back in anger and disbelief as little Cheslin Kolbe danced away for the try which deepened defeat into humiliation.

No Martin Johnson, he. No Bobby Moore.

The regard in which Farrell is held by some as an exceptional captain remains a mystery. 

Quite why he called in one of those huddles on the pitch when it was all over is strange. I have no idea what he has to say in those closed circles but given how tongue-tied and monosyllabic he is at interview it his hard to conceive of him as Churchilian.

Nor, as far as I am aware, have we heard a peep from him about how he and most of his troops disowned their medals.

As recollections of every Olympics should have reminded them, while silver is not as good as gold it is better than bronze and certainly preferable to nothing.

Not only these players but their game itself will ignore the social media torrent comprising everything from dismay to disgust at their dishonouring of rugby’s World Cup and their discourtesy to the Japanese.

Come to think of it, Fast Eddie was right about something else. They have plenty to learn.

Not least, manners.



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