Before I start this week’s diatribe, I’d like to pass on my condolences. French rugby is dead. And I am very sorry because, like you, I loved it. I can remember running hand in hand with it; we’d skip across fields together. Words like Camberabero, Lagisquet and Sella fell from our mouths like saliva from the gaping chops of a hungry dog. France had players who conjured up a purring contentment in any beholder. They were running rugby. They went dipping and rolling, passing and popping; they threw dummies as though the phrase ‘counter attack’ had been invented just for them. But on Friday night, as Wayne Barnes blew his final whistle in Cardiff, the coroner was summoned. It’s been a long and drawn out battle, but now, French Rugby has passed away. And part of us has died too. “You just don’t know which French team will turn up?!” Yes you do. It really hurts, but in this tournament, yes you bloody do.
Les Bleus turned up at the Principality Stadium and quickly sucked the soul out of the evening, like an Asperger’s accountant inadvertently invited on a stag do. Not that Wales were overly clever with their money. They butchered chances, with even the sparky Gareth Davies kicking rather than running the ball. The try of the game (there were only two, and the French one was a 25 yard, 13 person rolling maul) came at the start of the second half. France ran at Welsh defenders, the ball was spilt, and both Jonathan Davieses saw what was on. The one with ball booted it down field and the one with microphone tried to suck George North down the touch line. North’s pace was enough to find him clear and all he had to do was nurse a slowly rolling ball over the tryline. In keeping with the overall feel of the game, he swung a fetlock and committed a glorious and comedic air shot. And then, as if the moment couldn’t get any more cack handed, Jules Plisson, the French fly half who was enjoying a personal performance best described as ‘toss’, decided he would do what North couldn’t. Retreating at pace (isn’t that what Italians are good at Grandad?), he nudged it through nicely, onto which the Northampton winger gratefully pounced. Welsh women screamed into the camera, unaware of the shithousery on show, and Wales leapt into a lead which would never be assailed.
How Guy Noves has taken FFR lower than the World Cup spanking they received at the hands of the Kiwis, is anyone’s guess. But he has. If they are to produce anything worth watching in their remaining two games, it’ll beat Jesus’ Easter resurrection. And he was a better fullback than Serge Blanco.
On to Saturday, and a bit of magic. To paraphrase the soon to be late Paul Daniels, I liked it, just not a lot. Italy, Scotland, England and Ireland all clubbed together and decided enough was enough. Fits and starts of recognisable oval ball processes leaked forth. Scotland firstly, having threatened to rediscover the form of last Autumn, started to click. Both Stuart Hogg and then Finn Russell found space with neat footwork and off-loaded to an onrushing back row forward. The jocks were two tries up. Italy responded, as we all hoped they would and, slowly but surely, people moved towards the edge of their Parker Knolls. This, was a rugby match. Lorenzo Cittadini rounded off a sweeping Roman move and it was game on. The Italians snuck over for their second try midway through the second half but it only served to galvanise our northern friends to pull up their sweaty socks. Inspired by a gritty Greig Laidlaw, Scottish ball was worked wide in the closing moments and Hogg again, doing a remarkably good impression of someone who knows how to play rugby, swerved and backhanded the money shot to Tommy Seymour. It was great. It reminded me a little bit of a hilarious and presumably made up television programme called ‘Super Rugby’, which I’d been watching just a few hours earlier.
On to London. England at home, finally, and Eddie Jones mouthing the words to God Save the Queen was as painful as it got. The Tasmanian Dirt Devil has gotten England agitated, and they set about breaking Ireland down. Led by Billy the Behemoth, England were always too much to handle for the impaired Paddies and even though chances went abegging, and two rather silly yellow cards went relatively unpunished, Jones’ men created enough quick ball to see both Watson and Brown waltz over unopposed. For me, although many will talk of Itoje in the second row, Kruis was once again outstanding, and England will go into the match with Wales in a fortnight’s time with a huge amount of belief. Wales will be a different prospect. But Twickenham’s men are in a very different place than the last time they met.
Ireland however, still haven’t won a match since Argentina handed them their backsides in October and despite Sexton looking back to his best, much to his Mum and Dad’s delight I’m sure, you couldn’t help but feel this trip was always a distance too far. Two tricky fixtures to come too. Italy with nothing to lose and then Scotland. Both in Dublin, but could they lose both and finish bottom of the table? Stranger things have happened.
Oh what a weekend. And just a fortnight until we do this all again. What fun we will have. You’ll be back, I know you will. Because this Six Nations has to have some tricks up its sleeve. And because, deep down, like me, you just don’t believe they’re dead.
Sam Roberts © 2016. (Text only). All Rights Reserved