When England flopped in the quarter-finals of the first Rugby World Cup

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This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Guardian Sport Network Share on WhatsApp England’s preparations for the inaugural Rugby World Cup began in earnest at the Five Nations in February 1987. They had an awful start to the tournament, losing 17-0 to Ireland in Dublin and then 19-15 to France at Twickenham. But the fallout from the Battle of Cardiff threw an even bigger spanner in the works. England were defeated and disgraced in Wales, losing the game 19-12 and losing four players to suspension. With just one match to play in the Five Nations – and just three months to go before Australia and New Zealand co-hosted the first World Cup – England’s plans lay in tatters.Three-quarters of the way through their Five Nations campaign, England were still waiting for their first win and their first try. With Richard Hill banned, they were now in search of a new captain to lead the team in the Calcutta Cup and the World Cup. Step forward winger Mike Harrison, whose selection came as some surprise – especially to himself. “They must have gone through the list from one to 15. I imagine I was their 15th call after everyone else had said no. I was gobsmacked. It was not something I ever expected.”Harrison led the team out against Scotland, scored a try and guided them to a 21-12 victory. Suddenly, England expected. In the glow of that victory at Twickenham, the new captain even suggested they could win the World Cup. “Realistically, we can beat anyone,” said Harrison. “Obviously playing Australia on May 23rd represents a different challenge but, after our performance against the Scots, we have something to build on.”No one really knew what to expect from the first Rugby World Cup. At first, the RFU said they would not hand out caps to England players for World Cup games. That decision was reversed, but the feeling persisted that the tournament was of secondary importance. England back Simon Halliday had to declare himself unavailable for selection as he was a partner in a firm of stockbrokers and could not get leave. And then there was the television coverage of the event. England’s opening match against Australia was not shown live on TV as the BBC did not want to break their established schedule of Open University programmes.Having been drawn alongside Australia, Japan and USA in Pool 1, England fans expected Martin Green’s team to coast through the group and into the quarter-finals. Most supporters saw a semi-final spot as a realistic target, with confidence growing during the team’s five-day training camp in Portugal before the tournament.Strangely, expectations grew even higher after their opening match – a 19-6 defeat to Australia. The scores had been level at 6-6 after 50 minutes when referee Keith Lawrence awarded a try to David Campese even though he had clearly not placed the ball. This injustice helped turn the game and gave credence to the idea that England were not far short of the co-hosts. Despite the defeat, the press bestowed an unusual amount of credit upon the team. The Express called it England’s “most impressive performance since the 1980 grand slam,” with the Mail suggesting that “English rugby was reborn in the sunshine of Sydney’s new rugby stadium.” Twitter We take the Rugby World Cup for granted but it nearly didn’t exist Read more Pinterest The national team were near rock bottom, but a revolution was taking place in the English game. Roger Uttley took over as England coach, with Geoff Cooke stepping in as manager. And the establishment of a new club league, sponsored by Courage Brewery, helped push English rugby down the right path. “The setting up of club leagues is the most important decision made since the RFU’s inception in 1871,” proclaimed new RFU president John Burgess.The 1987 World Cup proved to be the point where things simply had to get better. Four years later, England won the grand slam in the Five Nations and then reached the final of the World Cup. The bore of Ballymore was bleak but it was also the darkness before a new dawn.• This blog first appeared on That 1980s Sports Blog• Follow Steven Pye on Twitter The players recharged their batteries with a visit to the Great Barrier Reef before securing second place in the pool with victories over Japan and USA. Harrison scored three of England’s 10 tries in the 60-7 rout of Japan; and the captain was also on the scoresheet as they beat USA 34-6.The England skipper was in a positive frame of mind before the quarter-final against Wales in Brisbane. “There is no need to fear anyone,” said Harrison. “We can still improve. We have not realised our potential yet and don’t know how good we are.” Inevitably, a lot of pre-match talk concentrated on the Battle of Cardiff. This game would also be an ugly affair, but for very different reasons.The contest at Ballymore is surely a contender for the worst ever match at a Rugby World Cup. Playing conditions were far from ideal, but the criticism fired at England after their 16-3 defeat was fully justified. “Wales were marginally the better of two poor teams,” wrote David Hands in the Times. It was not a great advert for northern hemisphere rugby. Paul Moriarty, Gareth Roberts and Richie Collins enjoy their victory over England. Photograph: Colorsport/Shutterstock Support The Guardian Share on Facebook Since you’re here… Pinterest Australia rugby union team Topics England rugby union team Facebook Richard Harding and Dean Richards in action for England against Wales at the Rugby World Cup in 1987. Photograph: Colorsport/Shutterstock Very little went right for England. When prop Paul Rendall was temporarily off the field with an eye injury, Wales used their man advantage in the scrum to score a try through Gareth Roberts. England still had 40 minutes to turn the match around, but they simply had no response: they made a series of unforced errors, allowing an injury-hit Wales team to remain in control; England were dominated in the scrum even though Wales were relying on inexperienced props Anthony Buchanan and David Young; England’s lineout was poor even though Wales lock Bob Norster was hampered by a hamstring injury; England seemed tactically clueless.A try from the excellent Robert Jones in the second half took Wales further ahead and the hammering was complete when John Devereux intercepted Peter Williams’ pass late on and ran in between the posts for the final try of the afternoon. It was a fitting end to a humiliating day or England. Understandably, the words used in the media to describe England were not kind: “inept”, “bumbling”, “fumbling”, “inhibited”, “abject”, “abysmal”, “hesitant”.“England were diabolical,” said former Australia fly-half Mark Ella. “They were just hopeless.” Mike Weston, who was acting as England manager during the tournament, did little to sugarcoat the defeat. “It was unbelievable,” he said. “We are back to where we started.” England left the field – and the World Cup – to the sound of 12,000 spectators booing because of the poor quality rugby they had produced. Rugby union Twitter Wales rugby union team Rugby World Cup 2019 features Share on Twitter Facebook Share on Pinterest Rugby World Cup Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Messenger Reuse this contentlast_img read more