When the history of Australian sporting journalism comes to be written many years from now, one piece will surely be dusted off and held up as perhaps the finest example of its type. And there it would sit under the chapter headed: Breathtaking Stupidity and Boneheaded Arrogance – How Not to Write a Sporting Preview.
For there can be no better example of the sense of superiority that had infiltrated the Wallabies’ camp than the piece in Saturday’s Australian newspaper by its normally astute rugby union editor, Wayne Smith, entitled "Wallabies to lift England burden".
In the annals of sportswriting in this country, few articles can have been so wide of the mark. And it was not just wrong, but ungracious. For it demeaned England, Australia’s opponent in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final, to the point of absurdity.
This is how Smith’s preview started:
The simple fact is the Wallabies are a better team than England. There is now just the minor and somewhat inconvenient matter of having to go out tonight in Marseille and prove it.
The poor English, bumblers that they are, have fallen short throughout this tournament on all three criteria: style, humour and most definitely good intent.
The English are just not cut out to be world champions. They have so little experience of sporting success that when it happens, it leaves them drained and exhausted. Rugby World Cup 2003, Ashes 2005.
And so on. The vitriol for England came in a torrent. We looked twice to see if there was some cleverly disguised irony that we had somehow missed on first reading but, no, the piece was deadly serious.
Rugby Union in Australia has often suffered from this jingoism and parochialism among its correspondents. And it’s not a pretty sight. When a preview of Saturday’s match called for a bit of intellectual rigour, and perhaps circumspection, all we got was cheerleading.
"The belief within the (Australian) camp is that beyond the bullyboys and (Jonny) Wilkinson, England doesn’t have much at all," Smith wrote.
Such conceit set him, and the Wallabies, up for a major fall. And a major fall is what they got - from the equivalent of the top of the Eiffel Tower. An ageing English pack, and old-fashioned British bulldog, not just monstered the Australians in the scrum but completely nullified the backs, the Wallabies’ supposed area of superiority.
In ancient Greece, such preening arrogance was called hubris. And those classical scholars in the Wallabies side should have known how exaggerated self pride and self-confidence often resulted in fatal retribution. If they didn’t before, they do now.
Smith was not the only one at fault. (And to his credit, he’s paid England its dues in this morning’s Australian, while highlighting the Wallabies’ shortcomings with their "popgun scrum".) No, the conceit was all-encompassing.
A fortnight ago, ARU chief executive John O’Neill made the extraordinary claim that all Australian sports fans "hated" the English. David Campese ranted again about "boring" England. Up in the Channel 10 booth before the game, the commentary team, which included two former Wallabies Ben Tune and Ben Darwin, exuded a certain smugness.
The result, in case you hadn’t heard, was a 12-10 victory to England. A sad end for all in the Wallabies camp, to be sure. But when the agony has worn off, hopefully the painful lesson in humility will long remain.