A doubting English hinterland looks to Dublin and St Patrick's weekend for rugby salvation

Published date18 March 2023
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
"Oh yes," they reply in unison. "The England rugby team stay there. I'd drive you but we're walking" she says

"I used to work there many years ago," he says. "The time that Lawrence Dallaglio and Martin Johnson were there. It was back when the England team were quite good."

This is Bagshot and English rugby may have lost their hinterland.

Five miles to the west of the station sits the Sandhurst Military Academy. To the east is Sunningdale and a little further away the town of Ascot. Rugby's favourite hideaway in deep Surrey and all around familiar names chiming with Irish themes.

It's London city's borderland busting with can-do prosperity and promise. The town of Virginia Water a few miles away ranks as one of the wealthiest in the UK. There's Wentworth too. It speaks of comfort and prestige, a quilt work of the city's favoured commuter towns.

But if the England team sensibility can be divined this week from place names along the stockbroker belt, it is not from the impregnable postcodes.

If its mood and disposition, its character and inclination, its tone, humour and current personality can be fixed by a place, it is not in the image or splendour of their Pennyhill Park Hotel.

A few miles down the Guilford Road in Surrey Heath sits a local area, Donkey Town. Symbolically today, in this moment, this place is where they reside. England are in Donkey Town.

That is France's fault. They have caused immense damage to the brand. Carving 53 points into the team psyche is a wound that won't stop smarting.

"There is a lot of grief," says England defence coach Kevin Sinfield, speaking a kind of language not normally used in sport.

Sinfield was born up north in Oldham, beginning his rugby league career with Waterhead ARLFC before joining Leeds Rhinos, where he made his first team debut as a 16-year-old.

At 20, he played for England off the bench in a World Cup before turning out for Britain 14 times and England 26 times. He rewrote the record books. Nobody in Super League history scored more points (3,443) or made more appearances (454).

The point is that, like Irish coach Andy Farrell, Sinfield is north of England steel. Today he talks like a counsellor.

"There's a lot of negative emotions and disappointment and embarrassment all wrapped up," he says.


The England team are moping around the hotel grounds. Captain against France, Ellis Genge describes the funk as "dragging our feet around and the bottom lip out a bit. It's Tuesday. People are still probably...

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