9 years ago I was sitting in a bar in Beira drinking Manica beer from litre bottles and watching an inspired England take the All Blacks down to the wire in a game that eventually ended in a draw - 26-26 I think. England's performance was directed by the fly half, who controlled the back line, kicked his points and generally bossed the show. 5 years later I watched the same player, subbed on in a World Cup quarter-final, moved to inside centre, calm down the fretful Jonny Wilkinson and put in a mature performance that helped England to the semis, and later of course to the final.
On Sunday I watched him provide a sense of purpose and unity to the England back row that has been missing since that night in Sydney 4 years ago. Mike Catt, despite being as old as the hills, and despite some dodgy handling early doors, played out of his skin. David Strettle, the only good news to come out of Croke Park since (I'm not making this joke, you'll have to imagine it), was again superb, Toby Flood quick controlled and solid and Shane Geraghty provided a moment of the sublime. Oh, and the pack turned up to play, which was more than last time.
So reasons to be more cheerful. When Jonny recovers from his hamstring twinge, I'm not sure he's automatic for fly-half. But Catt's only got one more season left (generously) . I've said for a while that I'd be inclined to play Jonny at inside centre, with a more of a playmaker at fly. Flood and Geraghty, Wilkinson and Charlie Hodgson - England aren't short of playmakers all of a sudden are they?