CHRIS FOY: England's devastated rugby players WERE gracious in defeat

CHRIS FOY: Hold it with the righteous indignation… England’s devastated rugby players WERE sporting and gracious in defeat, and taking off their World Cup medals is certainly no heinous crime

  • Some of Eddie Jones’s men chose to wear medals after World Cup final loss 
  • Jeff Powell’s opinion piece accused players of being bad losers, dividing opinion
  • Chris Foy now has given a case for the defence of Eddie Jones’s heartbroken side
  • He argues the players are rugby men, not machines, and were gracious in defeat 

So they took off their medals. That, apparently, was the heinous crime committed by the dejected England players in Yokohama Stadium last Saturday night. They took off their medals.

They didn’t take them off to hit the referee with, or the victorious South African players. They just took them off, because they were the wrong colour. Those consolation medals were silver, when they had wanted gold. 

The Rugby World Cup is not the Olympics; a mass scramble to reach the podium. Twenty teams chase one goal; winning the tournament. Second is not a target.

England fell short of their goal to win the World Cup and had to deal with a brutal defeat

They accepted being beaten by a better team on the night and the reaction has been extreme

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. That is the phrase we always hear from players and coaches who have been criticised. Well, everyone also has the right of reply. In this case, there has been criticism on Mail Online Sport of England’s conduct and attitude last weekend, so consider this an informed clarification, from someone who covered the entire campaign in Japan.

The post-match debate has divided opinion 

Many charges have been aimed at Eddie Jones and his squad, most of which demand a response. Removing the medals after their 32-12 defeat to the Springboks was the first charge. 

In this era of righteous indignation, that particular line of criticism was doing the rounds on social media within minutes of the presentation. Yet, within the stadium and in all the post-match interviews, it was not considered a serious matter or a mark of disrespect.

No amount of training turns rugby men into machines. They are at the mercy of human nature. They were devastated to lose a game they had hoped to win. They knew they were favourites and that they hadn’t delivered when it mattered, so they didn’t cherish the tokens of their near-miss. That is hardly surprising.

As a competitive teenager watching the 1991 World Cup Final, which England lost 12-6 to Australia, this observer was bemused and somewhat infuriated by images of many smiling English faces on the pitch at the end. Of course, this was an attempt to be good losers, but a personal memory is of Mike Teague conveying a fierce sense of frustration and angst, which chimed with the mood among viewers – well, certainly this one.

There is a famous quote on this issue from the great American Football coach, Vince Lombardi – who guided the Green Bay Packers to five Super Bowl titles in the Sixties. He said: ‘Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser.’

Tom Curry swapped shirts with winning captain Siya Kolisi (right) and congratulated him

Clearly Eddie Jones and his side were desperately disappointed but the outcry goes too far

The 2019 England team have been accused of failing to applaud the referee, Jerome Garces, with the implication that they blamed him for their loss. Well, off camera, those of us in the stands saw Owen Farrell lead his players in a line to shake the hand of the French official and his assistants. Many exchanged words with him. There were no arguments. Afterwards, the English players – to a man – accepted that the better team had won; no complaints.

They did not let themselves down with their post-match conduct, as has been claimed. There was raw emotion, but no petulance. No-one stormed down the tunnel in a sulk. They walked around the field to clap their fans. They stood respectfully to watch their opponents lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

Another of the charges is that they succumbed to ‘brattishness’ due to loss of bonus earnings. That is an accusation without any substance. 

England players enjoy being well paid (who doesn’t), but in the moments after the final, their actions and words spoke of devastation at missing out on historic glory, not on the loss of an additional payment.

Manu Tuilagi and the squad congratulated the victors and embraced them at full time

Apparently, the previous week, Farrell had ‘insulted’ the Haka by smirking at it. Well, at the time, there was an out-pouring of English joy at the novel response to the pre-match challenge and the collective air of defiance among the Red Rose players. 

It was a moment of great sporting theatre, which even the All Blacks confessed to being impressed by. Then England put the title holders to the sword – which wasn’t bad conduct.

Apparently, the Kiwis were gracious in defeat, in a manner England were not. Well, they certainly were gracious, but their head coach did menacingly offer a reporter outside when it was suggested that his team hadn’t brought peak intensity to their work.

Apparently, England finished the tournament as an ‘inferior version of South African muscularity’. Yet, there was broad, global agreement that the victory by Jones’ team over New Zealand was the performance peak of this and perhaps any World Cup. 

And apparently, England were arrogant in the build-up to the final. I must have missed that. They were all at pains to speak of the threat posed by the Boks and emphasise that the job wasn’t done.

Jones has been cast as an ‘Aussie mercenary’. Where to start? First of all, are we not past the era of casting doubt on a coach’s dedication based on the fact that he or she was born elsewhere? 

Owen Farrell was criticised for the post-game huddle but he wanted to pick the team up

In some quarters it was even claimed that Farrell’s smile in the semi-final was ‘insulting’

Apparently, he showed no ‘patriotic disappointment’. Well, those who witnessed virtually every public appearance he made in Japan first-hand would argue to the contrary.

After his team had fallen short in their ultimate quest, Jones was shattered, stunned and spent. His work ethic is the stuff of legend in rugby circles and he admitted to averaging three or four hours of sleep per night. The campaign evidently took an emotional toll at times. 

Jones also raged at the media for plotting his downfall if England had lost their quarter-final against Australia – which flies in the face of suggestions that journalists were acting as ‘cheerleaders’ in the Far East.

Farrell has been criticised for gathering his players into a post-match huddle as the Springboks began their celebrations. Another heinous crime. He wanted to try to pick them up and put their efforts into perspective. Isn’t that what captains are supposed to do? 

Yes, the skipper is guarded and wary when he speaks in public, and those of us who report on the team lament that fact, but he is obviously a different character behind the scenes. His hidden persona inspires his team-mates.

This clarification is not intended to be a white-wash; a view through Red Rose-tinted spectacles. England are not always loveable, with their drones and security guards, vast ranks of often stern staff and relentless commercialism. Some players are more down-to-earth than others, but that is reflection of society – and not just English society. All teams are the same.

It was not a case of England being sore losers, they just could not mask the pain of failure

Owen Farrell is a fiercely competitive man but reacted in the correct way after the game

Some players who have strayed towards arrogance have come back again. Most are pleasant and approachable and relatively normal. During their eight-week crusade in Japan, the vast majority of interviewees were engaging, open and honest. In this way, they have improved. 

And anyway, it is largely an in-house issue between team and media – reflecting a relationship which unavoidably veers between civility and brief spells of mutual antagonism.

Even those of us who were with them all the way don’t know why they didn’t bow at the end, as all the other teams did. But one thing is for sure, they would have been fully aware of etiquette and protocol. 

Jones has strong family links to Japan and he ensured his players were thoroughly prepared; both culturally and linguistically.

England did not dishonour the World Cup – as is the assertion. They just couldn’t hide the pain of not winning it. And if they had, they would have been castigated for not caring…

England had been expected to win so were clearly upset, but they were not ‘brattish’

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