There had been a period in which England had been passing the ball hand-to-hand quite successfully, and totally out of character with some of their recent performances. Farrell over, right between the posts. Wilkinson slots it home. Nice stuff. Game sewn up.
Then the moment. Tonga had proved to be the best of the Pacific islanders. OK, fair enough. Despite having a total population of barely 100,000, “the size of Chesterfield”.
For a start, Chesterfield is only about 70,000: to get to the 100,000 mark one has to add in the outlying areas, especially Staveley. Malcolm has genealogy that stretches back to Chesterfield, of which he is quite proud. He has a fond memory of going to Chesterfield to watch the 1961 Australians play Derbyshire. It snowed. No play. The main event of the day was drinking bitter with his cousin, Ralph, and watching Frank Misson running laps round the boundary.
Perhaps a better comparison might be Hartlepool, with a population below 90,000.
The reason Malcolm suggests this is because there was a time, some forty years ago, when he seemed to spend an inordinate number of Saturdays playing one or other of the Hartlepool rugby clubs: Hartlepool Rovers. West Hartlepool, Hartlepool Athletic, Hartlepool Old Boys … He came to the conclusion that every Hartlepudlian male between 15 and 50 must be turning out for one team or the other.
And they were evil buggers too. If they didn’t knacker you in the scrum, they’d drink you under the table afterwards. And every member of the pack seemed to be built on the proportions of a barn-door.
Just like the Tongans, indeed.