“Repulsive” was how the decorated France flanker Olivier Magne described England’s rugby at this World Cup. And just to underline his point “ugly”. It is par for the course for the French to take a pop at England – and the rest of the rugby world too.
Water off a duck’s back, circle the wagons and all that. But where there is more of a problem is when England’s own fans are weighing in.
The concerted booing that rang around the Stade de Nice in the second half as boot was put to ball yet again was not coming from the Japanese contingent. They were far too polite for that.
Instead it was the white shirts venting.
Elliot Daly claimed not to have heard it. He is either a little hard of hearing or, as one of the chief targets for the supporters’ frustration, he did not care for the subject being brought up. The stare back at the questioner would suggest the latter.
George Ford, who has kicked the ball more times than any other player in the tournament, certainly heard it but while he accepted some of the criticism he felt England’s approach was justified in the humid conditions.
“You’ve got to understand how difficult it is out there. I know it may not look it from the stands or watching on TV, but it’s actually more difficult than if it was throwing it down because of the grease and sweat on the ball,” he said.
“We want to have the best intentions and I thought we did move the ball at times and cause some problems. But what’s the best way to win Test matches, especially in those conditions? It’s to make smart decisions, win field position, and then try and be clinical when the clear and obvious opportunities come.
“We’re probably going to look back at some of the decisions and say we could have done better. Of course we will. But I think we got it right.”
A straw poll of England fans yesterday begged to differ. While England’s squeezebox tactics were cheered in adversity against the Pumas the previous weekend, they proved a good deal less popular playing 15 against 15 Japan.
The debrief amongst England fans along the Cote d’Azur in Antibes yesterday over a long lunch – what other sort of lunch is there in the south of France? – was that they were well within their rights to turn on the team.
The belated fluency England’s found in the final quarter dampened the dissent but the fact remains that there is an underlying disquiet amongst a significant proportion of the support Steve Borthwick goes out of his way to praise after each game.
This, remember, is the same Borthwick whose name had been greeted with boos by a small but clearly audible section of the England support in Mareille the previous weekend when it was read out by the stadium announcer.
Are they right to vocalise their feelings?
Are they harming their own side’s chances with their rebelliousness?
Is it a case of arrogant English entitlement at work when their side stands top of their pool on two wins out of two?
No other team’s fans have felt the need to turn on their own side at this tournament and not all of them have played perfectly either.
But then no other side at this World Cup kicks away so much possession.
Borthwick, getting his retaliation in first, pointed out that Japan kicked the ball 37 times against England on Sunday night. He omitted to mention England kicked it 42 times.
No-one should mind tactical kicking – it is part of the game. It can even be used creatively as with George Ford’s left-footed chip which led to Freddie Steward’s try.
What really infuriates is the pre-programmed waste of a precious resource a better side would be using to try-scoring effect.
It may be OK for now but the fear is their blinkered outlook will come back to bite them when push comes to shove later in this World Cup.