You nay have noticed there were a couple of games of rugby on over the weekend. Unless you've been living on Mars, in a cave, with your fingers in your ears that is.
Actually, you could be forgiven for thinking there was only one game on, which involved eight burly English chaps with names like George and Lawrence hiding a ball up their jerseys for 80 minutes only occasionally letting a fragile little chap called Jonny have it to kick it away again. Obviously this tactic worked a treat, as it bored their French opposition into a stupor and saw England's brave warriors reach a second successive World Cup final.
Earlier in the day at Old Trafford, the two best teams in Super League had put on a feast of running, handling and violent collisions which saw Leeds Rhinos crowned as champions for the second time in four years in the last game for coach Tony Smith before moving on. Of course by the time the late evening news bulletins came around, any focus on that particular sporting event watched by over 70,000 people was lost among the sort of blind patriotic jingoism that we English do so well.
Despite all the odds being stacked against them (in other words, they were rubbish heading into the tournament) our gallant English boys have found a way to win and now face South Africa for the glory of being the first side to retain the World Cup. That they found this way to win by completely removing all elements of risk, flair and entertainment from the game is secondary to the fact that after being crap for four years since the last World Cup they've started winning again. As usually happens with England teams in all sports, winning equals popular so expect the coming week to be a media barrage with all sorts of celebrities who wouldn't know a drop goal from a lineout expressing their delight and admiration for brave Sir Jonny and "the boys".
In a perverse way, England's progress to the final has demonstrated just what an appalling game to watch for the uninitiated rugby union really is. It's a sport where one team can win by being completely negative and choosing to stifle the opposition rather than looking to score points through pace, imagination and skill in the way the Rhinos did so well on Saturday. It's a game where the rolling maul is king, keeping the ball away from the opposition is paramount and hoofing it 40 yards off the pitch is greeted by rapturous applause. In short, it's the complete antithesis of everything you associate with rugby league. The two sports may have started from an identical root, but there respective evolutions have been as diverse as anything you would find in nature.
For all their brave noises after the last World Cup about playing a more expansive game, bringing in league talent in playing and coaching capacities and promising a red rose revolution, when put under pressure England have reverted to the sort of dour, plodding typecast that won them so few friends through the 1990s and into the new millenium. You know what though, as long as they keep winning the media will keep fawning and the Henrys and Nigels will keep turning up at Twickers (who knows, they may actually watch part of the game inbetween singing negro worksongs and sipping Pimms) and the world will stay on its twisted axis where the more entertaining product struggles to sell while the beige MDF flies off the shelves.