When Gary Barlow sent Chris Robshaw and his men on their merry way from the 02 on September 9, even the most dour-hearted Engand fan could not have imagined that 23 days later they would be welcoming their men back again.
Unfortunately the unthinkable happened.
England are now the least successful host nation of the Rugby World Cup ever and tomorrow’s match against Uruguay in Manchester will be the last chance to see Stuart Lancaster’s men before their campaign comes to a very premature end.
Like an eager, excited 18-year-old indulging in too much champagne at their own birthday, the youthful England side were too green to last the distance, but the party must go on.
So for those left, where next?
A home world cup does not come around very often – more often than the football World Cup, admittedly – but the world’s best rugby players on your doorstep is an opportunity even the bitterest England fan should not neglect.
Choosing the right team from here is essential.
Keeping it in the family, Scotland:
Well it couldn’t possibly be Wales, in fact after England’s Twickenham collapse against the Welsh, the ‘W’ word should only be whispered for the next four weeks and if the men from across the Severn Bridge make any significant progress, English fans may just support ‘the other team.’
Scotland, the Old Enemy, are a more reasonable choice if you want to keep your support within the Union.
Scottish ancestry is pretty common among those south of the border, providing an easy alibi for the change of allegiance, while the 2015 Six Nations Wooden Spooners are true underdogs and anything beyond the quarter-finals for Vern Cotter’s men is worth a whisky or two.
Star Man: Finn Russell – Scotland’s messiah has been a revelation since taking over at outside-half. The former stonemason is likeable and the most talented Scottish playmaker since Gregor Townsend.
Chances: Of winning? Slim. But expect vociferous support and a much improved style of play, if the draw and results go their way, they may sneak into the semi-finals.
Next Match: Samoa – Saturday October 10 at 14.30. Must win.
SW Londoner’s rating: 7/10, definitely maybe, but true Scots fans are used to frequent disappointment.
The Easy Choice, New Zealand:
Why not? The reasons are endless and you’re probably throwing your lot in with the future champions.
They have the Haka, they have Richie McCaw, they play incredibly entertaining rugby, great kit, but are they a little bit too perfect? Too efficient?
For those looking to avoid further disappointment, it’s the sensible choice, prepare to be lambasted for glory-supporting, but act early and you could be a gleeful Kiwi for the day when the final rolls around on October 31.
Star Man: Pick one. They have more stars at their disposal than any other nation. If you had to choose, maybe Dan Carter? Richie McCaw? Kieran Read? An embarrassment of riches.
Chances: Extremely high. They have lost as many test matches in the past four years as England have in the past six weeks and their victory against Georgia was their tenth straight Rugby World Cup win.
Next Match: Tonga – Friday October 9 20.00
SW Londoner’s rating: 8/10, high on certainty, low on adventurousness, a thinking fan’s choice.
Star Pick: France
It’s controversial, they’re exciting, they’re unpredictable and they make a habit out of over-performing at the Rugby World Cup and of beating New Zealand.
France’s 43-31 semi-final win over New Zealand at Twickenham in 1999 is the best game in world cup history and their 20-18 win against the same opposition in Cardiff in 2007 is not a million miles away.
They managed to reach the final in 2011 despite losing out to Tonga in the group stages and while Philippe Saint-Andre’s 2015 vintage are not quite as mercurial, they have come in under the radar and have the ability to beat anyone on their day.
Star Man: Frédéric Michalak – The ‘Frenchest’ player around. At his peak he is one of the game’s great attacking players, at his worst, he looks like a petulant schoolboy. He inspired the comeback victory against New Zealand in 2007 and has looked in great fettle so far this year. Also watch out for Louis Picamoles, the Toulouse number eight is a force of nature with ball-in-hand.
Chances: You never really know. They have not yet been tested in the tournament proper, but looked very strong against England during the warm-up games.
Next Match: Ireland – Sunday October 11. Both teams have already qualified for the knockout stages, but the loser of this game plays the All-Blacks in the quarter finals.
SW Londoner’s rating: 9/10, allez Les Bleus.