Gutted lewsey is robbed of final act against Springboks
Acts of heroism often carry a heavy price and England's Josh Lewsey is today coming to terms with the pain of being his side's fall guy ahead of Saturday's World Cup final against South Africa.
The Wasps star played a key role in England's 14-9 victory over hosts France in the semi-final at the Stade de France but last night Lewsey was ruled out of the final at the same venue on Saturday night with a hamstring injury.
At the age of 30, he knows there won't be another chance to perform on such a stage. And not even his winner's medal from Sydney four years ago could provide any relief from his massive disappointment last night.
"Over the last four years, not just yourself but the people around you, sacrifice an awful lot for you to be able to put sport first," said Lewsey, who had played every minute of England's World Cup campaign before he was forced to limp off at half-time against the French, to be replaced by the excellent Dan Hipkiss.
"There have been some testing times over the last couple of years and to go through all that and then to miss out just as you get to the final of the World Cup is very disappointing.
"I'm absolutely gutted. I kept some lasting hope that it was a spasm or cramp but we went for a scan yesterday and it was clear straight away.
"It looks like three to five weeks out."
Bath full back Nick Abendanon flew out to Paris last night as Lewsey's replacement. However, in a gesture of solidarity, Lewsey will stay on at the team hotel in northern Paris and do everything he can to support England's bid to become the first side to ever retain the Webb Ellis Cup.
"Sport can be a cruel thing but I will get behind the team," he added.
"We started this on June 24 in military fatigues (a training session with the Royal Marines) and I am not going home yet.
"Ultimately what matters this weekend is that England win and there will be no-one happier than me if we do it. This isn't the time for any self-pity. This is the time to be positive.
"Look what we have achieved over the last few weeks and let's take it to South Africa. All that matters this week is that England win. I don't care how.
"Like every England supporter I want England to win and I will do everything I can to help that. The beauty of rugby is that it is a team sport and everyone has a role, not just those lucky enough to go on the field.
"The guys who aren't involved have a massively important role, giving the guys support to ensure each individual who is playing on Saturday to prepare as well as they can."
Such brave words sum up everything about the character of this England side. They may not be the most talented side in the world but they have garnered that priceless commodity of spirit and dogged determination.
In doing so they have become a hugely difficult side to beat, as Samoa, Tonga, Australia and France have discovered to their peril.
Their last mission however will be their biggest test of their will - attempting to avenge the humiliating 36-0 rout to South Africa in the pool stage.
Having defied all the odds to get this far, Lewsey believes anything is now possible.
"They will fancy their chances," he added. "They beat us 36-0 last time and stuffed us twice in the summer.
"South Africa are favourites and rightly so, but it is quite nice doing the old (Frankie) Dettori, coming up on the rails, and hopefully we can do it again.
"There have been some difficult times and our performances haven't been up to it but we have a lot of gnarly old battle-horses in this squad.
"We have guys who have won trophies - club trophies, European trophies, Grand Slams and a World Cup. They are proven performers on the big stage."
France's Sebastien Chabal is free to face Argentina in this week's World Cup third-place play-off at Parc des Princes, after being cleared on a charge of dangerous play.