England's shattered World Cup dreams were plastered all over the Sunday newspapers as the nation handled sporting grief with a stiff upper lip, while the South African papers hailed their heroes.
After the vicious criticism of the nation's football team following defeat in Russia, the reaction to the rugby side's 15-6 defeat by South Africa in Paris was one of saluting a team of heroes who had fallen valiantly at the final hurdle. The Sunday Telegraph's front page featured a full-page photograph of a despondent Jonny Wilkinson emblazoned with the headline "Heartbreak" - a word used liberally.
Incredibly the first five pages of the Telegraph's news section were devoted to events in Paris, with the inside page stating: "Agony then tears as England's brave warriors fall at the last" next to various photographs of Prince William and Prince Harry, who were watching in the Stade de France. The sports pages focussed on Mark Cueto's second-half try that was disallowed by the video referee.
"Killer Touch" said the Sunday Times with a photograph of Cueto diving over the line.
A series of photos at the bottom of the page shows his foot touching the sideline before he grounded the ball. "The hearts of the white lions were finally broken in the Stade de France last night," said its main story.
"The surging, thrilling revival of the team from nowhere is over, the title is gone." Analysing the match itself the Sunday Times said "Boks On Top in Brutal Battle" while another story described the England team as "Accidental Heroes" saying that in the four years since they won the World Cup England have been "average at best". Despite the controversial disallowed try there were very few recriminations.
Only the Mail on Sunday provided any serious whingeing with a front page headline saying England had been "Robbed by Video Ref" next to a photo of Prince Harry signalling for a try next to his apparently praying older brother. The Observer's front sport's page again focussed on a wistful-looking Jonny Wilkinson at the final whistle. "Down and Out in Paris and London" it said accompanied by glum-looking face-painted England fans. "A Game Too Far For England's Old Brigade" opined its inside page.
"At the final reckoning, striving against the rugby Gods once more, they were forced to accept the reality of their shortcomings..." Criticising the match as a spectacle the Observer said a tournament that had "buzzed with the unexpected" from the beginning had ended "lamely".
"Nobody expected a classic running decider, but there were extended periods last night when both teams were treating the tradition of a game started, according to legend, by a schoolboy who picked up the ball and ran, as some form of elaborate joke."
The overriding sentiment was one of great affection and national pride for a bunch of players who had defied logic to drag themselves to the final against all the odds. "The grumpy old men finally ran out of steam, and luck", said the Mail on Sunday. "The chariot could go no further".
In South Africa, the headline in the Sunday Independent Read "Boks rule the world!" while the front-page of The Sunday Times merely read "Glory Boys!" over a picture of skipper John Smit and the team holidng the Webb Ellis trophy aloft. For the Afrikaans' Rapport paper, the Boks had made a nation proud - including the anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
"This epic victory is all the sensational given the despair of Rugby World Cup 2003, and for the Springboks to have risen from the canvas to win the title is nothing short of miraculous," said the Sunday Independent. "Enjoy it South Africa, and be proud of your team because it is doubtful there has been a team more deserving of the game's richest spoils." The paper said that the team's veterans were the stars of the show on Saturday night, particularly Montgomery who kicked 12 of the 15 points.
"The senior Springboks were magnificent in marshalling the forces. Among the forwards Victor Matfield, Os du Randt and John Smit were outstanding, at the back Percy Montgomery quite brilliant." The Sunday Times also said the experience of the Boks was vital in ensuring the door was closed on England long before the referee blew the final whistle. "In the end, the most experienced SA test side yet held their nerve better than England .... to effectively shut the match down from as early as the third quarter."
It also pinpointed Montgomery's performance as the key to victory, saying the blonde fullback, who had been dubbed 'Percy the Peacock' by the English tabloids, "got his revenge at the Stade de France". The lack of tries in the game meant that the final was far from a classic, a point that was not missed amid the euphoria over the result. "Both sides will be grateful that there is no column for how it looked in the history books because it was an ugly game," said the Sunday Times.
The crucial moment in the game came shortly after half-time when England's Mark Cueto thought he had scored a try in the corner only for the television match official to rule that he had been pushed out of touch. "It was the turning point of the match," said the Sunday Independent.
"Smit pulled his players into a huddle and they left it with their jaws set. England were given short shrift, the match was controlled and South Africa muscled their way to victory." The front-page of Rapport had a picture of Smit holding the trophy aloft under the headline "Bravo Bokke!"
"The World Cup is ours. Full Stop."
The paper said that it had received a text message immediately after the final whistle from former president Mandela, reading: "We are a winning nation. Excellent! Well done men. You are our pride." The match also made onto the front page of the City Press, which has a mainly black readership, with a picture of Smit and President Thabo Mbeki illustrating a story headline: "Green and Gold Joy".
Adapted from Stuff.co.nz October 22, 2007