With the start of the Rugby World Cup 2015 upon us we thought it would be a fitting tribute to post the below extract from Behind the Rose by Stephen Jones and Nick Cain. In this chapter, The Carling Years, the players discuss the build up to the second Rugby World Cup, which took place in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France in 1991.
In the build-up to the 1991 World Cup suddenly the game became cool, and The Sun had a rugby reporter. We noticed this phenomenal surge in interest, and the big buzz around the tournament really helped us. There was the sense that the entire country was behind you, rather than just a select audience. Just before the start, Barry Fentlow, who was one of the senior consultants at Southmead Hospital, wished me good luck and said he hoped England were paying me well. When I told him that there was no financial compensation he was amazed that I would be taking six weeks unpaid leave to play for my country. All the consultants at the hospital had a whip round on my behalf, which was very much appreciated.
One of my abiding memories is walking through Paris the day before the quarter-final with dad and mum. They were very gentle people, and reserved. An England fan came up and said to me, ‘Hey Jonathan, good luck.’ My dad was very old school, and turned to me and said, ‘Did he just call you by your first name?’
I love the French by the way, their culture and their wine and the people. In another life I might well have chosen to decamp to Chamonix and ski myself into old age. But the simple truth is they are so easy to wind up! I would never have gone on doing it if my little barbs hadn’t been so effective. It was ridiculous. I was watching a French rugby documentary recently on this period and my name kept cropping up and then they had an interview with Philippe Saint Andre and I paraphrase his comments: ‘When I was captain I used to tell the team, “Do not listen to a word this idiot Moore says, he is brainless.” And I would look up at the forwards who clearly had not heard a word I had said. All they wanted to do was go out there and punch somebody, preferably Brian Moore. And of course that’s what Moore and England wanted all the time.’
The World Cup of 1991 all still felt a bit new – well it was to me, because I had missed out on the ’87 World Cup – and as good a team as we were in ’91 we still had a bit of an issue with southern hemisphere teams. We weren’t playing them enough and deep down didn’t believe we could beat them on a consistent basis. The quarter-final in Paris was the most violent game I ever played in but also one of my favourite matches of all time. And that was a hell of a French team; but from the moment Nigel Heslop slapped Serge Blanco in the second minute we were right into our stride and never really felt like losing.
Then came the Scotland semi which in many ways was a horrible match, with almost zero rugby played, but the stakes were so high and the rivalry so intense after 1990 that that was probably always going to be the case. Gavin Hastings’ miss in front of the posts at 6-6 with ten minutes to go was a huge moment. I was under the posts talking to Jerry assuming we were about to go 9-6 down and trying to make some plans when suddenly we were off the hook and all we needed was a Rob Andrew drop-goal to win it.
I find it hard sometimes listening to talk about the 1991 final because you wonder whether you were there or not. My memory is that we as backs saw an area, instigated by Will, where we could attack the Australian backs. Look at how we played against other teams – we didn’t play a 10 man game, we could play in Brian Moore and Mickey Skinner celebrate Will Carling’s try against France at the Parc des Princes in the 1991 World Cup quarter-final. a variety of styles. We wanted to attack their outside-centre area. However, we still needed first phase dominance from our forwards given that we were playing against an Australian side that had beaten New Zealand, and let’s not forget that we conceded a sloppy try from a line-out. I didn’t have a great game, and nor did a lot of others.
There wasn’t a massive shift in emphasis, but there was a feeling we could spread it a bit and test Australia’s defence.
Plenty has been written about our so-called change of tactics for the final so here’s my version. We had toured Australia in the summer, lost 40-15, and basically our pack got hammered up front and they also produced a better kicking game on the day. We had meetings about this a couple of times in the week and discussed tactics. It was decided we had to open up a bit, try and stretch Australia, and this notion that we just woke up on Saturday morning and decided to change tactics is a complete nonsense. Two things worked against us on the day. We did try and put tempo into the game and we had the players – but we were inaccurate and didn’t make the final pass tell. The tactics didn’t quite come off. If we made a mistake at all it was not to realise that our pack had progressed since the summer and were now shaping up against the Australians better. We might have tweaked our tactics on the hoof but bottom line it made no difference. They were better than us.
In the summer we had seemingly shredded their backs in a Test in Sydney but to little effect, we didn’t finish off moves and lost heavily 40-15 and I believe we let our debrief on that influence our game plan unduly. We should have looked at those tapes and said, ‘Hang on, we lost that game 40-15.’ In the event we played quite a bit of decent attractive rugby in the final, good attacking intent, but it didn’t take us anywhere. Our pack was getting stronger with every match and I am convinced we would have won if we had kept it tighter.
There is no great debate in my mind. The lesson from Sydney was that we had to do quite a bit more than produce our forward orientated game from the Grand Slam to live with the likes of Australia. We lost a tight game of rugby against a very good side, there isn’t much more to be said really.
We hope you enjoy the next few weeks of rugby fever. There will be more extracts from our other rugby books on this blog in the next few weeks.
We will of course remain impartial throughout the World Cup.