Already I can hear a clamour of voices rising up in outrage at this very statement and most of those will be coming from west of the river Severn. But before the lynch mobs sharpen their pitch forks and dust off their torches I still believe there is a case to be made. The most coveted tournament in the world is in danger of becoming stale and unimaginative.
Aside from the Welsh, who still have not fully convinced me, there is not a team in the tournament who you feel could guarantee a positive performance of quality rugby. In the two rounds of matches we have not seen, aside from Ireland vs France, a game that has really set the pulses racing.
An improved performance from England at the Millennium Stadium cannot hide the fact that they are still nowhere near an acceptable standard. True, they are a young team still developing but this lack in quality has been the case since the glory days of 2003. There comes a time when potential can only take you so far – now we need to see performances and results.
Scotland don’t seem to be able to piece together a strong performance, though there is hope with the inclusion of the mercurial genius of Gregor Townsend installed as the new backs coach. The Evans brothers have injected some pace into what have otherwise been two fairly lacklustre displays, and the prospect of their game with Italy does not suggest a Six Nations classic.
France are still their usual Gallic selves, brilliant one game and woeful the next. A forward pass for the try masked over the fact that their display in Paris against the Scots lacked their trademark flair. Gone it seems are the days when we will see the likes of Blanco running the ball from under his own posts or the brilliant interplay of half backs Galthie and Merceron. France have the potential to set the world alight with players such as Heymans, Jauzion and the brilliant Dusatoir, but just can’t seem to shake their inconsistencies from their performances.
Italy continues to struggle and only have realistic expectations of possibly beating Scotland and posing little threat towards any other team in the competition. Led by their indomitable captain Sergio Parisse they have been making progress but the gap just seems too large to bridge.
As many have said Wales are the leading light in the Northern hemisphere, though what was plain to see on Saturday evening was the absence of a real plan B. England were not good enough to exploit this but had one of the SANZAR nations been there it would I fear have been a different story. The absence of their main firework Shane Williams was keenly felt and will be needed if their quest for consecutive Grand Slams is to be achieved. We can only wait and see if Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards can turn the men in red into genuine world beaters.
Ireland seem to be on their way to recovery after long term absence – Brian O’Driscoll and co seem to have found a new lease of life under Declan Kidney, but only time will tell how they will fare. The Golden Generation have underachieved and underperformed, and when the men in green take to the field, you are never quite sure if you’ll be on the edge of your seat or hiding behind it.
Gone are the days, hopefully only for now, when top quality rugby was on display for what was arguably the world’s best competition. I hope to be eating my words come the end of March but I fear that the gulf in quality between north and south is only going to get bigger before it gets smaller.
By Bobby Damerell