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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 10:42 GMT
Back pages down under
Mostly it has been fun, sometimes it has crossed the line, but now the Australian media's obsession with the England rugby team is all but done and dusted.

BACK PAGE HEADLINES
The Australian papers took defeat with good grace
Sydney Morning Herald: Steady Eddie marks it an A for effort
Daily Telegraph Sydney: Wallabies gave it their best
The Australian: A merciful way to lose
Brisbane Courier Mail: Jonny marching to perfection

England have left the country, taking "Old Bill", as the Australians call the Webb Ellis trophy, back to the Mother Country after beating the Wallabies to win the Rugby World Cup.

The only jarring note in an occasion notable for otherwise impeccable Australian manners was the churlish display by Prime Minister John Howard.

His sour expression as he presented the Webb Ellis trophy to England captain Martin Johnson infuriated Australians.

The letters page of the Melbourne Age was inundated with angry missives.

"His shameful behaviour lacked the dignity that his office is supposed to represent - and was, frankly, embarrassing for the rest of the Australian community," wrote one correspondent.

Another fumed: "Our Prime Minister is, again, a disgrace. His surly, ungracious presentation of medals and the Webb Ellis Cup on Saturday night was worthy of any discontented five-year-old at a birthday party."

But if the prime minister proved only that he was a poor loser, the Australian media showed that beneath all the pre-match hype there was genuine respect for the England team and affection for the 50,000 travelling English fans.

The Australian said: "England might not have been the most lovable of teams but they are the most deserving of champions.

"They were well-coached, well-led - that applies across the leadership spectrum, not just to the peerless Martin Johnson - and they played to their strengths better than any other team in the tournament."

You played with class, toughness and grace - you were bloody superior
The Sydney Morning Herald
The Sydney Morning Herald, which had enthusiastically bashed England at every opportunity throughout the tournament, decided it was time to come clean.

Under the banner headline "Hear ye, hear ye", the paper admitted that the criticism had not been based too closely on facts.

It said that after "magnificent" England's 20-17 win over Australia on Saturday "we would like to admit the following: You were not too old (although we hoped you would be when the game went to extra time).

"You were not too slow. You scored as many tries as we did. You kicked no more penalty goals than we did. You ran the ball as much as we did. You entertained as much as we did.

"You played with class, toughness and grace. You were bloody superior.

"You are better singers than we are (and just quietly, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is growing on us, as is Jonny without an 'h')," it said.

"We will no longer characterise your fans as beer-swilling, pot-bellied louts or knife-wielding hooligans and try to remember the sporting and enthusiastic supporters who did so much to make the final memorable."

But just in case they were worried that we thought they were turning soft, there was still a typically Aussie sting in the tail.

The paper signed off by praising its own team "and the magnanimous manner in which they and our fans accepted defeat at the hands of you Pommy bastards (sorry, that one slipped through the editing process)".

And given the fact that England had just beaten them in their own back yard, you can hardly blame them for one final dig.





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The gossip column
20 Nov 03  |  Football


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