England have achieved a feat not thought possible at the start of the tournament: They’ve reached the World Cup semi-final as the only Northern Hemisphere contingent.
This was supposed to be Ireland and France’s tournament to win. Both sides were deemed to be far too strong for any of the supposedly failing Southern Hemisphere sides. Well, it’s not worked out that way. The sport of rugby has proven to be just as unpredictable as the bounce of the ball that’s used, and it’s England that are now the sole representative of what has become a four-team tournament for the final two weeks.
England squeezed their way through an incredibly tough match against a brilliant Fijian team to take their place against South Africa in the semi-final in what will be billed as England’s chance for retribution after their 2019 World Cup final loss.
The jeers of 32-12 from Springbok fans will be ringing in the ears of English fans and players alike as they take to the Stade de France on Saturday – a taunt that has been used and overused heavily since. The banter between fans at opposition players is a well-versed tradition, one that is not likely to disappear any time soon.
A tradition that has become more prevalent in recent times, and one that England coaches want to stop is, however, the critique of England captain Owen Farrell from his own fans.
“We are lucky to have Owen. As ever, the tallest trees catch the most wind and he seems to catch a fair bit of it,” Richard Wigglesworth said.
“He’s proven time and time and time again and I don’t understand why in England we feel the need to not celebrate that, not enjoy it, just because he’s not sat in front of social media or the media lapping all that up.
“He is incredibly serious about his career, he is an incredibly proud Englishman. He affects any team he is in and he was brilliant for us – as we knew he would be.
“That was the maddening part of any noise. We knew what was coming from him.”
In the other camp, Jacques Nienaber was keen to talk about the challenge of facing England in the next round:
“I think it’s going to be a nice challenge,” Nienaber said.
“In knockouts anything can happen, like tonight I followed the England game when we were on the bus here. Also they (England) had a healthy lead and then Fiji came back and then they also pushed it right to the end.
“I think knockouts are going to be small margins right to the end.”