Monday 23 October 2017

Hugh Farrelly: Admit it -- this England team is hard to hate

Hugh Farrelly

ENGLISH arrogance is a phrase we are constantly bombarded with but, while it is not the most popular thing for an Irish person to admit, England has plenty to be arrogant about.

They essentially ran the world for centuries and became the dominant trans-global influence in terms of language, culture and overall legacy.

At a lower level, they gave us pork scratchings -- a deliciously salty combination of crunch and mush, which may look like the Devil's toe-jam but taste divine and in the pecking order of national pub snacks, put Tayto back in its box.

They gave us the pristine, feminine perfection that is Kristin Scott-Thomas -- a true sex goddess at a time in the early 1990s when Ireland was lusting after Bibi Baskin as its primary pin-up (not that Bibi wasn't appealing in her own earthy, 'mother me' fashion).

And -- all hail the tanned-up slag -- they gave us 'Geordie Shore', that MTV-sponsored slice of reality TV gold that has more cussin and banging than a Wild West gold rush and leaves Ireland's 'Tallafornia' looking like Sandy Shaw having a sing-off with Shirley Bassey.

And, lest we forget, they also gave us most of our major sports -- football, golf, tennis, cricket and, of course, rugby.

The England rugby team has been regularly accused of arrogance, but delve deeper and you find that this has frequently been more attributable to supporters and media than the camp itself.

Martin Johnson, as player and manager, was regularly and unjustly slapped with the arrogant tag when he should have been lauded for his impassive excellence and strength of will. Much of his negative image in this country stemmed from the events in Lansdowne Road in 2003 when Johnson rightly refused to be messed around merely to tick the bureaucratic boxes that accompany Ireland's ridiculously protracted pre-match routine.

And, whatever has been said in the build-up to tomorrow's clash in Twickenham, accusations of arrogance are way off beam in the Stuart Lancaster era. Since coming in as interim coach, this unassuming northerner has been quietly impressive in the way he has gone about business with a team of meat-and-two-veg Premiership players he assembled in his image.

Lancaster set about winning over the English public first, getting back to basics by training in gritty surroundings up north rather than the rarefied environs of Pennyhill Park, and distancing the squad from the scandal-laden memories of the World Cup in New Zealand by dealing swiftly and decisively with any disciplinary lapses, such as Danny Care's.

The red rose had almost become a badge of dishonour following the sordidness of England's romp around New Zealand last September and October, not helped by the putrid nature of some of the rugby they produced, but there is pride once again -- among the players and supporters who have latched onto new fresh-faced heroes like Owen Farrell and their admirably industrious and likeable captain Chris Robshaw.

Belief slowly welled up in the squad after two scrappy victories over Scotland and Italy, flourished and hardened after coming so close to tumbling Wales off the crest of their own wave and exploded in Paris last weekend when England exploited French frailties superbly to fashion a seminal victory.


Unfortunately, from an Irish point of view, that win has not resulted in a week of self-approbation such as the one that accompanied England's Grand Slam slump in Dublin last year, while Lancaster has also managed to keep a lid on the normally dependable English rugby media from charging down 'Aren't We Great Alley' prematurely.

While Dylan Hartley is one English player who could be seen as conforming to the stereotype, even this is qualified by the fact that he is a Kiwi.

It is testament to a coach when the team is greater than the sum of its parts and it is not hard to wish Lancaster and this England side well -- if they were playing anyone but Ireland, you would love to see them round off the championship with a victory.

However, this is St Patrick's Day, in Twickenham -- a day for the Irish to embrace their own and allow themselves to dream.

Perhaps the dream is of Tayto smokey bacon in a bowl, Sandy Shaw on the stereo, 'Tallafornia' on the box and the bould Bibi on the couch, but it certainly involves Ireland finding the energy to end a torrid tournament in style. England will always have Paris -- and the rest.

Irish Independent

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