Category Archives: Sport

History of the different codes of Rugby/Gridiron Football

The Rugby World Cup saw a rise in discussion about the history of the game. Some of this discussion pre-dated 1863-1871, which, as I noted at the time, was somewhat odd as there was no meaningful “rugby” (as distinct from the broad codes of “football”) before that period.

Legend has it, of course, that “football” when it moved to become a field game (almost entirely the case by 1823) became split when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball at Rugby School and ran with it. Legend is exactly what that is, of course. In fact, there were varying codes of football until well into the Victorian Era. The basic aim of “football” was to manoeuvre the ball over the opponents’ goal line; typically between some posts. Quite how this was to be done, and what was permitted in so doing, varied from school to school and club to club. In 1863, an association of schools and clubs came together and set out one code which became “Association Football”; in 1871, another code was clearly agreed upon based on Rugby School’s code which became broadly known as “Rugby Football”. These were shortened, respectively, to “soccer” (from “Association”) and “rugger” (from “Rugby”). One obvious distinction was that the latter was more liberal about the permitting of handling, and (increasingly over time) of physical contact (most particularly, formalised “tackling”).

It should be noted that even “soccer” still has some vestiges which are clearly of common origin with rugby. Handling is still permitted, albeit to one player on the team within a certain zone; charging is still permitted, albeit now in very specific circumstances; the ball is still returned to play from the sideline via a throw, albeit a specific type designed to limit the distance which can be achieved from it. It also retains the distinction between a direct free kick (formerly known as a “penalty kick” even when outside what became the penalty area) and an indirect free kick (formerly simply the “free kick”), which in fact developed after the split from rugby but reflects common influences. “Offside” also has a common derivation, initially from disallowing any player to be in front of the ball, even though the exact rule is now quite different (having begun to diverge in many schools and clubs which came to allow a kicked pass to a player standing in front with certain restrictions even pre-1863).

Football in general soon developed a problem in the UK, in that the more professional classes saw sport as a purely leisure pursuit, whereas industrial workers felt they had a right to compensation. “Soccer” ended up with two separate competitions as a result – the Football Association-administered “Challenge Cup” (a knockout competition which professionals disliked as they could be out of the competition after just one match), and the Football League under different administration (disliked by amateurs as it required professional levels of training and fitness to compete over a full season of round-robin fixtures). “Rugger” had the same division but with much wider consequences: the “Rugby League” did not just become a separate competition in which players could be compensated, but ultimately a different code altogether.

Fundamentally, the objective of all Rugby-derived codes (including “football” in North America) came to be to advance the ball over the opponents’ goal line for a “try” for a score of the highest value, which is also followed by a further play offering extra points (typically, though in North America now not compulsorily, a kick). In each case, kicked goals (through the posts and over a crossbar) without the “try” remained a means of accruing points, but of comparatively decreasing value.

From the late Victorian Era, the rules adopted by the Rugby League came to diverge from those used by the amateur Rugby Union. Over time, League was considerably simplified: line-outs were removed; the points system was altered; the two flankers were lost, making the game 13-a-side; and, most fundamentally of all, the contest for possession after a tackle was abandoned.

Interestingly, and apparently coincidentally, football in North America followed a similar path to Rugby League – it became professional (albeit with a significant “college” variety in both the United States and Canada), and it also removed line-outs, altered the points system, reduced the number of players allowed on the field during play (to 12 in Canadian and 11 in American), and abandoned the contest for possession after a tackle. “Down-and-distance” rules were adopted, separately in Canada and the United States albeit under common influence, which also changed the field layout to a chequerboard, i.e. resembling a gridiron (as, after a tackle, the ball had to be played from the square in which the tackle had taken place). Thus, the name “Gridiron” came to be applied to football as played in North America – even after the gridiron layout was abandoned in favour of lateral lines every ten yards accompanied by longitudinal hash marks.


The original “gridiron” field (Syracuse, NY, 1910) – courtesy Wiki

Thus, Rugby Union is distinguished from all other forms of the game deriving from the Rugby code by the contest for possession after the tackle (known as the “breakdown”). This feature of the game – involving releasing the ball and the creation of rucks or mauls – is perhaps its most distinctive aspect. Competition of possession is in fact the most outstanding distinction in general – such competition also defines scrums (usually awarded for minor infringements and also used for some re-starts), line-outs, and even in theory free kicks. (It is increasingly debatable, however, just how stable this aspect of the game is: the sheer complexity of the laws around it and the obvious potential for injury and concussion are leading to serious questions being raised about the very viability of the game – questions which are currently peripheral but which will no doubt become more mainstream. We may therefore reasonably predict that the laws of Rugby Union will move towards those of the other codes as the century progresses.)

Gridiron Football and effectively also Rugby League are all defined by a set piece after each tackle and “down-and-distance” rules (though the terminology varies). Rugby League allows six “tackles” to score; American Football allows four “downs” to advance ten yards (on a 100-yard grid); and Canadian Football allows three “downs” to advance ten yards (on a 110-yard grid).

Fundamental divisions between both codes of modern Rugby and both main codes of Gridiron are apparent in the attire the players wear (Rugby kits are similar to soccer, albeit with increasing padding; Gridiron uniforms include helmets and shoulder pads) and thus in the type of tackle allowed (Rugby requires arms to be used, and wrapped; Gridiron does not, although this liberal attitude to “hitting” is increasingly being debated on safety grounds, even with helmets and pads). However, perhaps the biggest distinction is that Gridiron’s post-tackle plays begin with a “line of scrimmage” (a deliberate change from Rugby’s grouped “scrummage”) and that it came to permit one forward pass from behind that line. Gridiron also only requires the ball to be moved across the opponents’ goal line for a “try” to be awarded, whereas Rugby requires the ball to be touched down (albeit with very slight differences in precisely how between Union and League): it is odd, therefore, that the term for this in Gridiron in common usage for the score itself has come to be “touchdown” (the “try”, formally at least, refers to the kick or throw for extra points afterwards), whereas Rugby retains the word “try” for the score alone.

American Football has moved further from the original Gridiron version than Canadian has: it reduced the size of the field; moved the posts to the back of the “end zone” (i.e. to the dead ball line from the goal line); and introduced greater restrictions on movement. Gridiron has also adopted a defensive score not available in Rugby: if a team takes the ball behind its own goal line and fails to move it back beyond it, it concedes a “safety” (worth two points to the other team) and also kicks away possession (otherwise, unlike in Rugby, the scoring team kicks off after any score). Canadian Football, uniquely, also has what is known as a “single”, scored by kicking the ball beyond the opponents’ goal line without it being successfully returned beyond it by the other team (one of the marked distinctions of Canadian Football from American is that kicks generally remain live, including missed field goals).

The original means of scoring in Rugby were the “try” (a goal kicked after advancing the ball over the goal line), the “dropped goal” (a goal from a drop kick in open play), the “goal from the mark” (a goal scored by a kick after a fair catch) and, in most varieties, the “field goal” (a goal scored by kicking the ball straight off the ground). The “penalty goal” was added to both Rugby codes as a direct kick following a major foul, but Gridiron did not adopt this. All codes quickly came to recognise that advancing the ball beyond the goal line alone (the “try” in Rugby and the “touchdown” in Gridiron) should have a value of its own, and above that of any other score (Union was the slowest to complete this latter). Effectively the “field goal” and “dropped goal” were merged in all varieties (and the “kick from the mark” either abolished or rendered impractical by adaptations to the precise shape of the ball).

Scoring is now:

  • Rugby Union: 5 for a try/touchdown plus 2 for a conversion goal; 3 for a penalty goal; 3 for a dropped goal;
  • Rugby League: 4 for a try/touchdown plus 2 for a conversion goal; 2 for a penalty goal; 1 for a dropped goal;
  • American Football: 6 for a try/touchdown plus 1 for a conversion goal or 2 for a conversion touchdown; 3 for a field goal; 2 for a safety;
  • Canadian Football: as American, plus 1 for a single.

Even a slight difference in the rules can, interestingly, lead to a very different game. For example, as in Rugby, the ball may be advanced in Gridiron by passing the ball sideways or backwards to a free player at any time (specifically, in Gridiron, prior to contact), but because possession is at a premium this is much rarer. Dropped goals are allowed in Gridiron, including for conversion kicks, but, because the ball is sharper at the ends, they are now almost never attempted.

Gridiron is, of course, also marked out from any other version of football by its strict timing and its rolling substitutions. In terms of timing, Gridiron is based around a game clock for timing, with strict rules. In terms of players, Gridiron teams came to have three distinct “platoons”, for “defense”, “offense” and “special teams”. Rugby is moving that way in both cases, but is markedly different. It now has basic game clock timing, but in practice the final “play” can last several minutes; and it has long had a clear distinction between “forwards” and “backs” as separate groups (albeit all on the field at once). Union now allows 7-8 substitutions and in limited circumstances replaced players may return to the game.

Despite these marked differences, there are a number of areas where all the games retain vestiges of when they were once one. All are about advancing an oval ball over the goal line for maximum value, or kicking between the posts and above the crossbar as an alternative means of scoring (by moving in this direction, scoring has also increased in all codes over the years); all involve tackling by physical contact; all allow forward kicks and side/back passes (although Gridiron now allows one forward pass to restricted receivers from a particular zone); all have a particular default use of the 20-25 yard line (for restarts in certain circumstances); none rewards “knock-ons”; and all exhibit “offside” (albeit in different ways).

The culture of the different codes means they will probably all remain distinct: Canadian Football and, outside Australia, Rugby League remain very much minority versions, but they have a clear geographical home which is unlikely to shift. The big differences will probably come around the common concern to all codes of concussion and later mental health of players, with Rugby Union the code most likely to be directly affected in terms of gameplay. Union’s distinctiveness from all other codes, marked by its constant competition for possession, will probably decline over the coming decades as safety concerns grow. It will be interesting to see exactly how this comes to be addressed!

Please rugby, don’t turn into football!

I follow (association) football before rugby union, but I am sure I am not the only football fan who has been enthralled by the Rugby World Cup. For me, most refreshing of all is the different culture of the game most obviously demonstrated by the respect shown for referees.

To see a burly Boer tell a man a full foot shorter than him “Sorry Sir” is an aspect of the game which should never be lost. It plays to an honesty and a camaraderie between all participants which has long, unfortunately, been lost to football at the highest level.

Yet there is a real risk that rugby, as it becomes more professional and more exposed to media scrutiny, will lose this culture (and consequent honesty and camaraderie) which make it so refreshing. That risk was evident yesterday.

In a wholly unexpected and frankly incomprehensible turn of events, Scotland, who had almost been eliminated in the previous game by tiny Samoa, found itself involved in an epic match against Australia, previously the tournament’s stand-out team. An intercept gave Scotland a try and conversion and a two-point lead with just seven minutes to play. A miraculous victory, and a long-awaited triumph for Northern Hemisphere over Southern Hemisphere, seemed nigh.

Yet the Scots contrived to lose a line-out near their own 22-metre line two minutes from time, and in the melee the ball bounced forward (from a Scottish point of view) into an offside Scottish hand, meaning a penalty to Australia.

There was some discussion about whose hand it had come off, with a suggestion that an Australian would merely have meant a scrum. Actually, as is so often the case with football, this merely served to show that the presenter and pundits did not know the laws of the game. Whose hand it came off was, in fact, redundant.


However, all the talk after the game was about the referee’s conduct. In football, this would be normal; but in rugby it did not strike me as loyal to the culture of the game. To use words like “disgusting” and to headline articles with stories about how a (widely respected) referee should now no longer officiate at international level is just not the way rugby works even if a mistake has been made (and also objectively ludicrous in this case, given the referee did not make a mistake). To re-emphasise: uninformed punditry from past players (but not past referees) is par for the course for football, but is not traditionally part of rugby. I fail to see how it is a good thing for rugby to follow football in this regard!

It was cruel. The Irish know only too well how it feels to seem set to steal a World Cup quarter final unexpectedly against Australia with a late try, only to have it seized away again with a last-gasp score (as happened in 1991). However, the rugby thing to do would be to focus on what an outstanding match it was, what a fine and unexpected effort the underdogs put up, and how well the Australians did to keep cool under pressure. If further discussion about crucial mistakes were really required, the obvious starting point was the decision to throw a line-out long so late in the game, which was always a risk particularly in the wet. Even if there is a dispute about the late penalty award (and, to emphasise, the farce in all this is that there really is not), the point to make is that the Australians were in strong position to kick three points anyway.

Let us be clear, paedophilia is “disgusting”; toddlers having shotguns is “disgusting”; a referee recognising he may not be popular and walking off the field quickly is perhaps “poor etiquette”, but we need to have some proportion – it is not “disgusting”.

We all say things in the emotional aftermath of a game, but rugby has a wonderful culture of respect, honesty and camaraderie. This culture should be maintained and promoted, not allowed to wither as the sport turns into football. It would do no harm to note what an astonishingly difficult game rugby is to referee – with more regulations covering the breakdown alone than there are for the entire game of association football! It would also do no harm to note that the referee had it right (just as he did when sending Wales’ Sam Warburton off in the last World Cup’s semi).

So I think it would be wise for some of those who got a little emotional to apologise to Mr Joubert; and for the commentary and punditry to focus on the wonderful entertainment and fine play this World Cup is providing, without an unhealthy focus on referees who are only doing their best (which is usually very good and always considerably better than the pundits expressing “disgust”) in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Rugby should adopt Tennis’ replay system

Rugby Union is not my sport, but as a fan of team sports this particular Rugby World Cup is going very well – with epic encounters, high-quality action, and several shocks. In particular, the improvement of the “Tier 2” teams is a good sign for the global game.

However, I have found my enjoyment somewhat spoiled by the constant referring of decisions to the “TMO” (the “fourth referee” based in the stands with a TV screen). The problem is not that we do not want to see the correct decisions; it is, of course, perfectly apt to use technology to ensure the correct calls are made. The problem is that the excitement of a thrilling try is sharply reduced by a seemingly interminable wait for the decision from “upstairs”. As a result, some games are exceeding 100 minutes in on-field playing time.

It seems to me that there is a fairly obvious solution, which could be borrowed more or less from American Football or even Lawn Tennis. Instead of the referee “passing the decision upstairs”, each team could have a certain number of “challenges” (say, three each half). If the captain of the defending side felt there was any question of a foot in touch or a forward pass (or whatever), he could challenge the ruling and have it referred to the “TMO”; likewise the attacking side, in some instances, could appeal the disallowing of a try or even make a case for a penalty or penalty try in certain instances.

This would have the advantage of ensuring the correct decision was made when it really counts; but it would also avoid the game being slowed down so much. Furthermore, celebrating the epic moments – such as Wales’ equalising try nine days ago – would not be delayed by the agonising wait for the man upstairs!

The origin of the term “try”

The Rugby World Cup continues to draw in the crowds, with the “bonus point” system adding to the interest because it becomes potentially important to score four “tries”.

So why is it called a “try”?

Essentially the original game of “football”, once it moved from entire towns on to a field, consisted most often (though it varied from town to town and school to school) of two posts placed at either end. The aim was simply to manoeuvre the ball through the posts, initially by almost literally any means, to score a “goal”.

This was, evidently, madness – one French diplomat said that if “football” was the English at play, he would not like to see them at war!

Thus, various clubs and schools came to adopt different restrictions about how the ball may be moved. Eventually, by the mid-Victorian era, many had come to follow the rules adopted by Rugby School said to have originated in 1823, which had various moves outlawed but allowed handling by all players; others followed the rules of an association of schools adopted in London in 1863, which came to allow handling only by one player in his own half. Hence were born Rugby Football (colloquially “rugger”), and Association Football (colloquially “soccer”).

Both codes and all major successor forms of “football” except Aussie Rules eventually adopted a crossbar (which was initially, in fact, merely a piece of tape but later came to be a horizontal pole similar to the vertical ones forming the posts), with a “goal” in Rugby Football and its successor Gridiron codes scored above the bar, and in Association Football below. (Gaelic Football, of course, cunningly allowed both – the scoring value for below the bar settled on three times the value of over the bar just over a century ago, having initially been higher.)

The Rugby code came to have four distinct ways of kicking a “goal”. One was a field kick, straight from the ground in play (ultimately this was effectively replaced by the penalty kick, taken from the ground after a major foul); a second was (and is) a dropped kick, taken from free play; a third was a kick from a mark, a dropped kick taken after a fair catch (fair catches can now only be called inside a team’s own 22, and this method of scoring was formally abolished in any case forty years ago); and a fourth was a placekick taken after touching the ball down (officially “grounding the ball”) in the opposing team’s in-goal area (in line with the touchdown location). Thus, when a team touched the ball down on or over the opponents’ goal line, they were said to have a “try” at goal – noting that initially the goal was only scored if the kick was successful, and the touchdown itself had no scoring value.

Different schools and clubs moved at slightly different speeds in practice, but within decades the unfairness of the worthless “try” became apparent. Thus, a “goal” of any sort became worth five points, but a “try” even without a successful kick was awarded two points (thus, effectively, towards the end of the 19th century a “try” was two points and a “conversion” three, with any other goal worth five).

Ever since, of course, the “try” has increasingly been seen as the most exciting method of scoring, and has thus increased in value to become the main means of adding points (as well as a prominent tiebreaker between teams on equal points in league rankings), as other kicked goals have consequently been reduced in value. This has happened, albeit to varying degrees, in all successor codes – Gridiron and Rugby League as well as Rugby Union. Nevertheless, in the Rugby codes, the name “try” remains, a vestige of when it was in itself worthless!

That is why a “try” is called a “try”.

Why is a “touchdown” in Gridiron called a “touchdown” when you don’t have to touch the ball down? No idea – I’ll leave that to the readership…!

History of Rugby World Cup: 2011

To conclude this series just as the current edition gets going…

2011 was the year of redemption for the All Blacks, at home in New Zealand – but it was close!

The tournament really got going in the quarter finals, each of which was keenly contested aside from New Zealand’s easy win. Two big Northern Hemisphere clashes went the way of France (by totally outplaying a poor England) and Wales (by beating Ireland in every area of the field in the second half to win 22-10). The most bizarre game was the Tri-Nations clash between Australia and South Africa – the Wallabies literally only made it into the South African 22 once in the entire match, but scored a try when they got there and then clung on, with the addition of a dodgy penalty on their only visit to the Springboks’ half in the final quarter, to nick an 11-9 win despite being utterly outplayed.

In the semi, New Zealand unsurprisingly reversed previous defeats to its trans-Tasman rivals with an easy win. The story came in the other match, where Wales, reduced early to 14 men after captain Sam Warburton was red-carded, put in a monumental effort and even mustered the game’s only try, but narrowly missed three kicks in the last half hour to miss out agonisingly 9-8.

The final was similarly low scoring, almost like games of yesteryear, as the occasion got to the hosts. Having comprehensively beaten France in the group, New Zealand staggered through the repeat of the first ever final, and the final whistle on a torturous 8-7 win against a traditional bogey team was greeted with relief as much as jubilation.

History of Rugby World Cup: 2007

2007 was the most bizarre World Cup, won by South Africa without having to play a single top-notch team after the defending champions emerged from nowhere to reach the final.

The story of the tournament wore white. The English were reigning Cup holders but came in as no hopers. That status was confirmed by a savage 36-0 beating at the hands of South Africa in the group phase, meaning no one would have been more surprised than the Springboks to be confronted by the very same team in the final in Paris.

As is now typical, the quarter finals made the tournament, even though the eventual winner cantered through them (South Africa ended up facing Fiji). Argentina had set the tournament alight with an opening game win over France, earning an easier quarter final against Ireland which the Pumas won easily. However, the Northern Hemisphere still managed to enjoy its best ever day in the tournament – Australia sought to avenge its final defeat against England (the way England had in reverse in 1995) and scored the game’s sole try, only mysteriously to crash upon the rocks of a determined defence 12-10; as if that was not stunning enough, New Zealand then succumbed again to bogey team France in an epic decided by the razor thin margin of one conversion, by 20-18.

As a result, it was left to the Springboks to dismiss the Pumas and reach the final without playing either a Six Nations or Tri-Nations team in the knock-out phase. The other semi was a grubby affair, settled by the game’s only try right at the start and then as so often by the boot of Jonny Wilkinson, from the mark and the field, 14-9.

No one could quite believe that a team thrashed to nil a month earlier had made it back to the final, far less that Wilko’s army would now face the team which inflicted the savaging. After the drama of the earlier rounds, it was all a bit disappointing – no tries and Percy Montgomery’s boot always putting the Springboks too far ahead. The 15-6 scoreline meant England, in fact, conceded more points in the knock-out phase than it scored. Both sides, nevertheless, headed for home content.

History of the Rugby World Cup: 2003

2003 saw the only Northern Hemisphere victory as England’s supreme organisation secured a Grand Slam-World Cup double.

England’s first big test was in the group against South Africa – the 25-6 scoreline was slightly flattering. The quarter-finals were memorable only for the way in which Wales tested England, leading for much of the match. This left one all-Southern and one all-Northern semi – the hosts Australia saw off a miserable New Zealand and Jonny Wilkinson’s boot saw off France (the French lost by 17 despite scoring the game’s only try).

The final made the tournament, and remains perhaps the best ever. The hosts shot off the blocks with a superb early try from Lote Tuqiri, which was equalised late in the first half by Jason Robinson, which alongside three penalties gave England a comfortable lead 14-5. However, three Elton Flatley penalties were the only scores of the second half as the visitors were blanked, and thus the game went to extra-time. England finally got some points, only for Flatley to strike again to bring it to 17-17 right at the end. Step up Jonny Wilkinson, who literally wrong-footed the Aussies for the game’s winning field goal right twenty seconds from the whistle.

Tonight could be justice for a special manager

In 1988, my late grandfather was taken into hospital for a hip replacement. We visited every day and, like any vaguely adventurous 10-year-old, I soon found a much more interesting patient elsewhere in the ward!

The young gentleman opposite had, sadly, been involved in a serious accident rendering him (at the time at least) unable to walk, which was a particular tragedy because he was in fact a highly promising footballer, who (it soon became apparent, though he was too modest to claim it himself) would have been good enough to make it “across the water”. So soon my visits involved a cursory greeting to my grandfather before the real visit to this young man, football-mad as I was, got underway.

Sadly I do not recall his name, but I do recall we watched highlights of Liverpool drawing 3-3 against Manchester United (which dates all of this to around 4 April 1988, in case he or someone who knows him happens to be reading…)

My excitement was only heightened, massively, by news that this gentleman had a close friend who played for Newcastle United. I remember, before my next visit, ensuring that I brought a treasured panini sticker album to show his picture and confirm his identity. In fact, it turned out this player, despite this being the closing stages of the season, was crossing the Irish Sea frequently (at least weekly, if my memory serves) to visit. And indeed my grandfather had the good grace not to recover too quickly that I couldn’t ensure one of my visits coincided with the player’s visit, and as a 10-year-old I revelled in the excitement of discussing life as a real top-flight professional footballer with the visitor and his injured but wonderfully friendly former colleague.

It always occurred to me what a wonderful thing it was that that player made the time and effort to visit a friend who had been as talented, but less lucky. Sadly I do not recall the name of the injured gentleman but I hope very much he made some sort of reasonable recovery.

I do remember the loyal and kind-hearted footballer of course, whose career I followed with eager anticipation after that. His name was Michael O’Neill.

History of Rugby World Cup: 1999

Australia became the first country to land two Rugby World Cups as the millennium ended. Of all the Rugby World Cups, 1999 may be the least memorable overall, but it perhaps contained the most memorable match.

A peculiar format resulted in a set of playoffs before the quarter finals, after which all of the Home Unions had been eliminated (England was drop-kicked out 44-21 by defending champion South Africa, for whom Jannie de Beer hit five field goals among 34 individual points).

As they had earlier in the year in the Cricket World Cup, Australia and South Africa played out a semi-final tie which resulted in Australian progression, this time after extra time. The other semi-final provided the most bizarre quarter hour in the history of the tournament. Jonah Lomu had New Zealand strolling to another comfortable semi-final win against France, when suddenly it all just went horribly wrong. Flowing, passing, running rugby saw the All Blacks shell shocked by four unanswered converted tries in direct succession.

Everyone was left stunned, even the French, who crumbled in the final 35-12 to the rampant Australians.

History of the Rugby World Cup: 1995

One vehicle driver got a surprise on the evening of the World Cup Final in 1995, when he found the captain of the winning team thumbing a lift – it was truly a World Cup which resounded, and even spawned a film.

Francois Pienaar could not quite believe the interest new South African President Nelson Mandela showed in the team before its first ever World Cup match, against none other than defending champion Australia. The Springboks dominated, and cruised through the pool phase with only one minor issue – James Dalton’s red card against Canada. This was to become curiously relevant.

The quarters were notable for a repeat of the previous Final, between England and Australia. Australia never led from early on but kept pegging England back, getting it to 22-22 heading into the final minute. Step forward that man Rob Andrew again, with a monster drop from the left side to put England through.

He would end up, maybe, wishing he hadn’t. In the semi-final, the English defence faced humiliation from the moment New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu literally ran over Mike Catt. Two tries already conceded, England still hadn’t registered when All Black forward Zinzan Brooke calmly unleashed a forty-yard dropped goal.

With one semi a metaphorical wash-out, the other was nearly a literal wash-out – and suddenly that earlier red card mattered. If the game were deemed drawn, for any reason, disciplinary record would decide it and South Africa would be out of its own World Cup. The game was played forty minutes late in a swimming pool, with France finally having to surrender while only four points down and camped on the Springbok line.

The final was not thrilling but was tense. At 9-9 going into extra-time, with Lomu stopped by courageous Springbok tap tackling, South Africa’s disciplinary record looked once again as if it may prove costly. At 12-12 at half-time in extra-time, this was even more so. Joel Stransky was left to step up, and ensure the happy ending, the celebrations – and the hitch hike of champions.


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