Justice for all
In his final column of the season, Stuart Barnes looks at England's final game and applauds the RFU.
Last Updated: 02/07/12 2:08pm
And so to the final column of the season; apologies for my absence last week, I was rushing off to the Wild Transkei coast in the Eastern Cape where luxuries such as the internet and wireless capability are few and far between.
It was six days of filming for the Donald Woods foundation who do outstanding work in aiding a community where poverty, health issues, unemployment and logistical nightmares such as appalling dirt roads combine to make life hard for the people that live in this beautiful but sad part of the world. If you want to see where I travelled and why look at www.donaldwoodsfoundation.org.
It carried me a long and emotional way from Port Elizabeth and the third test. It is only nine days ago as I sit typing but it feels far more distant. From that distance there are a few salient points that need making. Primarily, one has to recognise the quality of the result. England did not win but to draw in a city where the Springboks previously enjoyed a proud 88% win ratio is a fine effort. In all ways - results wise - it can be regarded as the best effort by Stuart Lancaster's men to date.
England did a fine job in stopping the unstoppable advances from the previous week. The loss of Wilhem Alberts was a hammer blow for the home side; his first wave charges were the fuse for the second and third wave runners that did such damage in Johannesburg. Yet England was without its inspiring captain, Chris Robshaw, which balanced the plusses and minuses that come with the attrition of a three match test series.
The game was not a thing of beauty but a draw was none the less significant, especially in the light of the other three match series. The Six Nations championship was shown up as the mediocre event it was as Ireland were destroyed either side of their one off brave effort. Wales carried Europe's main hopes and were beaten 3-0, although with the next World Cup held in Europe a Welsh win in the Southern Hemisphere takes on less significance than England's obsessive quest in the Woodward era. The whitewash does make the autumn more important than ever, however. Sooner than later Wales has to acquire the habit of beating the best on a regular enough basis; to achieve this they have to find a way to get the consistent best from Rhys Priestland. He appears central to the quality or otherwise of their game.
The series also raised doubts about the unquestioned leadership of Sam Warburton as next season's Lions skipper. Robshaw appears a viable contender and with the Welsh captain having a season of injury setbacks he needs to rediscover his outstanding World Cup form to hold off the ebullient challenge of Justin Tipuric for the Welsh seven shirt. Nothing stands still for long in this game.
On the subject of the Lions, the dominance of the Welsh scrum and the problems Robbie Deans is having in building a top notch front five makes the Lions narrow favourites to win the series....but we are still at ante post stage.
A weak Six Nations, a brilliant All Black team when allowed to play (different class to the rest of the world) and a tenacious England whose draw enables them to believe deep down before an awkward autumn of test rugby where three wins from four matches should be the Twickenham expectation.
One final seasonal aside; I was delighted to find on my return from the Transkei that the RFU upheld London Welsh's appeal. Justice has been done and the sport has saved itself from external mockery. Newcastle will be disappointed but after a long period of non-development they can see this season in the Championship as a chance to rediscover themselves.
Dean Richards is the right man to focus them on the challenge of immediate promotion and doubtless he will remind every Geordie that Harlequins did not collapse because of one year in the Championship.
Good luck to Newcastle and every team aspiring to the Premiership. Good luck to London Welsh. Getting past the audit was tough but staying up on the field could make that appear easy. They have earned the right to their crack at the big time, win, lose or draw. Well done the RFU.
Next week I am off on holiday with Mrs Barnes, no laptop, no internet, just sunshine (what is that? I hear you scream.) Thanks for the interest taken this season, it has been a pleasure. I'll be back in august. Enjoy whatever of the summer we get,
Again, many thanks,