Rugby Rugby's Howard Johnson finds that internet outrage over Lawrence
Dallaglio's pro England comments is a pain in the posterior.
Can the idea that maybe England's Six nations exploits were more
significant than Wales' really be so outrageous? Howard Johnson investigates…
I saw some pretty industrial language being used on Facebook today and all of
it was directed at Lawrence Dallaglio. Fair enough on the surface, perhaps.
Dallaglio does have an uncanny knack of getting up people's noses. And as in
his playing days, you suspect that he positively enjoys the process. But why
today in particular? Well, it was because of something the former England
Number 8 said on BBC television after Wales had clinched their third Six
Nations Grand Slam in seven years and England had recorded a fourth victory
of the tournament over a shambolic Ireland – and on St. Patrick's Day at that!
For Dallaglio the story of the 2012 Six Nations was England's resurgence, not
Wales' winning run to glory. And this point of view certainly got up the noses of
any number of, I suspect, non-English rugby fans.
“Typical English arrogance” said a load of folk who all sounded like they'd have
taken great pleasure in doling out a good kicking to the English when all was
not well within the Red Rose camp. No matter. And far be it from me to side
with Dallaglio as a matter of course. He is, after all, a man I always found it
immensely hard to warm to as a player, his great jaw sticking out in a cocksure
strut of defiance, the look on his face one of feigned surprise and
incomprehension whenever a decision went against him. But to unleash such a
torrent of bile over what was to all intents and purposes a fairly innocuous
opinion, seemed to me wholly derived from that all-too-pervasive 'ABE'
(Anyone But England) attitude that exists within a sizable minority of all of the
other Six Nations participants. Why wasn't I surprised when some French
friends of mine recently returned from watching their side win at Murrayfield to
tell me what a great time they'd had slagging off the English with their Scottish
The facts of the matter are this. Wales were fantastic throughout the
tournament. They managed to manage expectations as tournament favourites
and delivered every time they took to the field. Winning a Grand Slam is never
easy, even in a year which no-one could ever claim to be a vintage one. Wales
deserved to finish on top of the pile. But what is also true is that England's feat
of winning four and losing one – to the eventual champions, remember – in
circumstances that couldn't have been tighter deserves special mention. Was
England's resurgence the story of the tournament? Maybe, maybe not. But to
suggest that the team's exploits, made flesh by a brand new group of
inexperienced players and directed an Interim Head Coach who didn't know
what job he'd be doing the day after the tournament finished, could in no way
be seen as of equal significance in comparison with Wales' wholly expected
triumph is just willfully reactionary. Of course you can make a claim for it being
the single most significant story of the 2012 Six Nations. Of course you can!
And if you still don't believe me, then consider this. When England ran out onto
the field for their final game against the Irish the TV commentator said
something along the lines of the fact that were there to be a British & Irish
Lions squad being assembled right now, there was a good chance that not a
single Englishman would feature in the starting XV. That's possibly true. For
every Ben Foden there's a Rob Kearney. For every Tom Croft a Dan Lydiate. For
every Owen Farrell a Jonny Sexton. So if that's the case, then England's Six
Nations performance must logically be seen as all the more impressive, all the
more unlikely, all the more incredible. England are far from a team of misfits.
But they are a new team, a young team, a team in the process of being built.
No international victory is ever won without blood, sweat, courage, tactical
nous and diligent planning. For a group that barely knew each other just eight
weeks previously to have won four games and come within a whisker of
beating a very, very good Welsh side is surely a phenomenal performance in
the book of all but the most one-eyed.
Those supporters who reacted with such vitriol to the idea that England's
performances were more eyebrow-raising than those of the Welsh seem to me
to be responding from a place of utter irrationality. It's not an outrageous
opinion. It's simply an opinion you might not agree with. And Lord knows that's
not an outrageous point of view either. You're allowed to disagree. But
England's performance was at least worthy of serious consideration as the
single most gob-smacking element of the Six Nations. And I'd suggest that
anyone who thinks such a view is absolutely disgraceful really needs to take a
long, hard look at their own prejudices before giving vent to their feelings.