ENGLAND are looking for a double the first cricket Test against Australia at the Gabba, in Brisbane, and our scalps at Twickenham tomorrow. Things weren't looking too bright for them at the Gabba at time of writing, but there are still three days' play to go. Things don't look too bright for us at Twickers.
It's not just the arctic conditions that are closing in, it's the sense of implosion. We started our northern hemisphere tour with a display against Ireland that was uplifting. Our threequarters were moving with zest, the forwards driving well; the handling was superb. Given that we had a side with no recent match play and a lot of injuries and that we virtually took the airport bus direct to Lansdowne Road it was a pretty good performance against a strong and experienced Irish side.
We should have stepped it up against Wales a week later, but instead we stepped it down. All kinds of silly buggers factors came into play; we damn near threw the game away. Among those factors was the flurry of substitutions made in the second half. Why? I refuse to accept the explanation that Piet de Snor gets a regular crackle in his headphones after half-time with the Minister of Sport or the chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sport giving him instructions as to who should be given a run; but it remains a mystery. When you're only a few points ahead and in a critical phase of the game, you stick to what you've got.
Then Scotland and another step-down. Take nothing away from the Scots they outplayed us on the day and they used the atrocious conditions perfectly. But we never looked like getting any rhythm going, having any kind of game plan. We again started kicking away possession. There was a pointlessness to it all, 15 individuals thinking of a hot shower. The Scots had the chemistry, we had none. It is most disappointing.
Doubly disappointing is that it follows a magnificent Currie Cup season in which the top sides played world class rugby, thoroughly attuned to the new laws that favour ball-in-hand play. It just hasn't translated to the national team. And when one says ball-in-hand, that doesn't necessarily mean expansive threequarter play. It also means mauling forward play, keeping possession, driving, adapting to weather conditions.
Can they get it right in a week? At least we know we have the physical ability, the skills. It's just the kop we lack at present. Can attitude be changed in a couple of days? Who can supply the spark to set us alight? Victor Matfield has a lot on his hands.
The fellows of the Florida Road rugby colloquium are in sombre mood and apprehensive. But hope springs eternal, things can change in a flash. Ladies who attend at The Pub With No Name tomorrow are advised to wear extra strong knicker elastic just in case. A Springbok victory will be greeted with unrestrained joy, and the celebratory shattering of the streetlights in a feu de joie will be performed with particular gusto. Crème de menthe all round! Frappe!