AP – “We might as well burn up the ball and put it in an urn. This is the day English rugby died.”
England supporter Susan Alexander certainly found her country’s 33-13 Rugby World Cup defeat to Australia on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) hard to take.
In front of a massive 81,010-strong crowd at Twickenham – the home of English rugby – the Wallabies moved into the quarter-finals and consigned England to the ignominy of being the first World Cup hosts to fail to reach the knock-out stages.
England fans trudged away dejected while Australian supporters partied in the stands long before victory was sealed.
“They took us apart. I’m gutted,” said England fan Ashley Beeden, summing up the mood.
“It is always a great match when we knock over the mother country,” said a delighted John Wallace, from Sydney.
But perhaps the most cutting comment came from Alexander, who said her Australian husband would pay the price of victory.
“We are in separate bedrooms for a month,” she insisted.
“It’s like the Ashes in cricket. We might as well burn up the ball and put it in an urn. This is the day English rugby died.”
With dry ice blowing across the pitch, Twickenham looked like a battlefield before the match had even begun.
As the stadium lights went out for the laser light show, the atmosphere became more like a rock concert than a sporting encounter.
Jets of flame shot up pitchside as the flag-bearers emerged. At a canter, Australia captain Stephen Moore led his team out first, as England calmly strolled on to the pitch.
After deafening renditions of “God Save The Queen” and “Advance Australia Fair”, the huge crowd were fully revved up for the match.
Australia supporters, who filled the West Stand corners, were sent into delirium in the 20th minute when Bernard Foley score his first try. Many immediately headed to the concourse for another beer.
A hush followed the conversion as England supporters took stock.
The Aussie fans were on their feet again 15 minutes later and even broke out into dancing when Foley scored a well-worked second try.
The tension began to show as England supporters barracked their team for losing possession.
In the half-time queue for lagers, rival supporters discussed the 17-3 scoreline.
“It isn’t over yet. England are still in with a shout,” said England fan James Walker, who flew home from Houston for the match.
Hugh Bradshaw, from near Brisbane, said: “I’m quietly confident. We don’t like to be too confident. We’re not Kiwis.”
The first lusty rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” inspired an England surge into Australia’s half.
Prince Harry, wearing an England top, hollered “Come on!” as the hosts started their most promising attack of the match.
And the royal rugby-lover finally had something to cheer in the 56th minute when England’s Anthony Watson reached over the line, triggering a roar of delight and flag-waving in the stands.
The converted try revived the home supporters and when a 64th-minute Owen Farrell penalty made it 13-20, they sensed a shot at victory.
But Farrell’s yellow-carded tackle on Matt Giteau with 10 minutes to go transformed what could have been an England line-out in Australia’s 22 into a successful Wallaby penalty, turning the momentum and the atmosphere with it.
Dancing Australians in the upper tier rightly sensed victory and got the party started long before Giteau’s try sealed England’s sorry demise.
But it wasn’t Aussie-inflicted misery for every England fan: a woman in an Australia top gave a man in an England jersey a passionate kiss as the crowd dispersed.