Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby: 10 English rugby myths

No, they weren't that old and William Webb Ellis didn't invent the game, reports Chris Rattue

Jonny Wilkinson kicks the 2003 World Cup winning drop goal in the final against Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson kicks the 2003 World Cup winning drop goal in the final against Australia. Photo / Getty Images

1. Dad's Army

The 2003 World Cup winning side were portrayed as doddery old buggers who got to training sessions using pensioner bus passes. Martin Johnson's champions were no spring chickens, but they weren't exactly wrinklies either. Maybe their static game enhanced the impression. But the average age of the World Cup final starters, 28, matches the All Blacks' current first XV and you don't see anyone giving Richie McCaw a walking stick.

2. William Webb Ellis invented rugby

The World Cup is named in his honour, but there is scant evidence that young William gave rugby to the world in 1823 by illegally running with the ball during a game of soccer at Rugby School. The initial claim, made after his death, involved mysterious sources and u-turns. Just be thankful that this eponymous sports moment was not linked to his next place of education, Brasenose College. Imagine following a sport called Brasenose.

3. England did a lap of honour after drawing with the All Blacks at Twickers in 1997

A classic memory trickster. The cringe-inducing celebration occurred at the previous test, a record home defeat by 25-8 at Old Trafford in Manchester. As the story/excuse goes, the "victory" lap was a PR exercise at a soccer ground in the northwest, where league rules over rugby.

4. Jonny Wilkinson - World Cup final superhero

He nailed the famous extra-time drop goal but not a lot else in the epic 2003 final against Australia, and wasn't always dominant with the ball during the tournament. But who cares, because the real thing is better than the World Cup myth with the obsessive Wilkinson. He is among the bravest little blokes to ever play - at less than 90kg he was a top tackler and ball carrier in the 2003 tournament. His precision, humanity and dedication were central to England's best rugby era. The fascinating inner Wilkinson workings (bordering on self flagellation) rival those revealed in books by soccer player Tony Cascarino and on the late German goalkeeper Robert Enke. The humble Wilkinson has always put the World Cup bizzo into a perspective he struggles to find about life, which only makes him more endearing.

5. The English game is upper class

Try telling that to Jason Leonard, the record-setting prop known as the Cockney Carpenter. Fellow front rower Phil Vickery was off a Cornish farm, and strongman No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio from a catering family. Such stories are common. Legendary captain Will Carling did describe the English bosses as "57 old farts" but the game's ruling class reputation doesn't deal with the actual complexities. The impression that a class war exists with league ain't entirely true either, an example being Twickenham hosting two recent Challenge Cup finals.

6. English players rise to the sounds of Swing Low Sweet Chariot at Twickers

The rugby anthem mysteriously appeared in the early 1990s, and English captain Carling for one said he hated the crowd singing it. This remnant of tragic elements in American history lacked the English patriotic factor, Carling observed accurately. In Ron Palenski's Century in Black, Carling says he tried to rid Twickenham of the song. This was as pointless as trying to stop a Mexican wave and Carling gave up.

7. England's only victory on their 1973 tour Downunder was against the All Blacks

Yes, they fell to Taranaki, Wellington and Canterbury before their shock test victory over Ian Kirkpatrick's mob at Eden Park. However, the English had beaten Fiji - by a whole point - on the way here.

8. Rugby was unaffected by the northern league breakaway in the 1890s

The English immediately lost more tests without the uncompromising Yorkshire and Lancashire forwards. A humiliating 23-point defeat to Wales in 1899 began a run of often big losses to the previously inferior Welsh. The politics and economics of the breakaway usually overshadow the effect on the quality of English rugby.

9. League rules along the M62 motorway

Basically true, but not completely. Rugby has an outpost in the northern league zone - the mighty Sale Sharks. The club is suffering lean times, and is at the foot of the premiership table right now. But don't worry, help is at hand - rugby White Knight John Mitchell has zoomed in to lead the rescue. Stay tuned ... for player unrest and lots of other interesting stuff.

10. Mike Catt the doormat

Catt's backward somersault tackle on Jonah Lomu at the 1995 World Cup sent his reputation into a freefall. But the versatile Catt was regarded as courageous and skilful by teammates and some opponents such as Aussie great Michael Lynagh. The impression Lomu left is indelible - especially in the YouTube era - even though Catt was a late but key influence in the 2003 World Cup triumph.

- NZ Herald

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