Like Halley's Comet and Rip van Winkle, weekends when
football takes a back seat to rugby do not come round very often.
But one such occasion is upon us, as the last knockings of a
Euro 2012 qualifying campaign are overshadowed by the Rugby World Cup
True, the football is not without interest. Unless you're
Welsh. Ireland and Scotland (just) remain in the qualification hunt, while
England could still stuff it up if they lose in Montenegro tonight.
But, after an interminable group stage that Ken Bates would
probably describe as "slow arousal", the men with the egg-shaped
balls are finally getting to the business end of their quadrennial bean feast,
and deserve their moment in the sun.
It seems even the footballers agree, as the most interesting
comments to come out of yesterday's England press conferences in Montenegro
were about rugby, with John Terry weighing in on the controversies that have
dogged Martin Johnson's side.
Just to recap England's Tour of Shame:
1- The team go bungee jumping on a day off. Risky.
2- Players photographed drinking at a nightclub. Boozy.
3- Mike Tindall pictured cuddling a blonde (not his wife). Saucy.
4-Two coaches banned for switching match balls before kicks. Sneaky.
5-Three players reprimanded for 'banter' with a female hotel worker. Sleazy.
6-Manu Tuilagi fined £4,800 for wearing a sponsored gumshield. Despicable.
Needless to say, Terry wholeheartedly approved of Johnson's weary dismissal of
any criticism of his players, taking the opportunity to have a dig at Fabio
"I like the way the manager has come out and defended
"When managers come out and back you, it brings you
together. I like that."
Johnson has looked like a man befuddled by the sudden
interest in what his players do off the pitch, scoffing his famous
mock-headline: "Rugby player drinks beer shocker"
Brilliantly, the Daily Telegraph used the headline for the
front page of the following day's sports section.
The Tindall 'controversy' has shoved rugby further in the
direction of football - despite the fact his wife Zara Phillips didn't care
even a tiny bit about the mystery blonde.
Whether or not these wounds are self-inflicted, the days
when a rugby team could unwind with a skinful of ale and a scrap with Stan
Collymore are clearly over.
Rugby players used to be an accessible, happy-go-lucky
bunch, interacting with the general public almost as though they were normal
Contrast their carefree boozing and bundling with little
people at a 'Mad Midget Weekender' - the photographic evidence of which is
still all over Facebook - with England's attempt at winding down at the 2010 World
Following Terry's mutinous rallying cry of "Flipping hell, let everyone have a beer," about half the squad (by Terry's count: "Me, Lamps,
Wazza, Aaron Lennon, Jamo, Crouchy, Johnno, Jamie Carragher, Stevie, probably a
couple more.") sat sullenly in a hotel lobby with a crate of South African
lager, while Fabio Capello tentatively sipped a glass of red at the next table.
Rock and roll.
Nobody wants that. Not even Capello, it
seems, who yesterday seemed to imply England will be allowed all the carousing,
dwarf-tossing and blonde-kissing they want should they make it to Poland and
Ukraine next year.
"Everything when you win is good, the perfect choice,
the best choice if you drink or go with women," Capello said in his
"When you lose, it's a disaster. The results are the
most important thing."
Quite right. Now if only those scandal-seeking rugby
journalists would take a leaf out of football's book.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Let's hand this one over to rugby, too. Here's France coach Marc
Lievremont ahead of Le Crunch: "Of course the rivalry still exists between
us, but when it comes to the English I think it exists with all the nations in
the world, if I'm to believe all the messages of support from the New
Zealanders, the Argentines and the Australians that we come across in the
street. They are united against England."
FOREIGN VIEW: An unemployed Italian man has received death
threats because he has the same name as referee who made a number of
contentious decisions in a big match.
Gianluca Rocchi from Florence shares the same name as the
official who took charge of the Serie A clash between Inter Milan and Napoli
"It's not the first time it's happened and that's also why I follow the
Florentine referee's performances to see if I need to expect some telephone
threats," Rocchi told local newspaper Il Tirreno.
"I always hope that he referees well. But in any case, it's never nice
to hear someone tell you on the telephone they're going to kill you."