If the Rugby World Cup was a competition determined by the singing of the National Anthems, then England would surely be crowned champions. In the pre-match ceremony v Wales, the hosts belted out God Save The Queen with the nationalistic fervour of a team about to go to war.
Loaded with emotion and heartfelt desire. Tapping into the hype and expectancy, this was an England team who wanted to let everyone know they were up for it.
But maybe that was the problem. An excellent first half hour showed them to have the measure of the Welsh. But then, as the visitors gradually increased the pressure, England began to find that emotion wasn’t enough. What was needed was astute game understanding and management, that would enable them to shut the game out at 19-9 ahead.
World Cup’s are where your strengths and weaknesses are ruthlessly examined. And last night at a shell-shocked Twickenham England failed the test. Game management is about know-how and nous. It’s about having a feel for the mood of a game, and knowing how to exercise control accordingly.
Some players have this naturally. But it can be learnt. It comes from being a keen student of the game. Absorbing the games great matches and players. Knowing your history. Knowing the games defining moments. Where they happened. How they happened. And who was involved in them. History can be a great coach and teacher for the keen student.
A current English player should be throughly versed in the professional and clinical manner in which Martin Johnson’s England team would close out matches. Knowing your hstory is more than an academic exercise. It builds your rugby mentality and intelligence. And thus in the heat of a big World Cup match, you can sub-consciously draw on the key lessons of the past.
Emotion is a useful fuel in getting you pumped up and generating energy. But it won’t win you a World Cup. In fact, if your not careful it can lose you one. As England found to their cost on a challenging night at Headquarters. This was a team that didn’t appear to have drawn on any of the game management lessons handed down from the generations before. And that is simply a failure of learning.