Musings on a confusing Six Nations Championship

Stuart Peel reviews this year’s Championship, picking out some highlights and one or two lowlights.

England, where art thou?
So after coming back down to Earth with one of the more resounding thuds of recent times, where does winning the Championship but being completely outplayed in their last game leave England? James Haskell said you are only as good as your last game, which means England are pretty awful. It is not as simple as that. England have made considerable progress this season and only the more grumpy and cantankerous members of the English press would argue otherwise.

The more important question in the aftermath is not where they are in comparison to their Six Nations rivals but where they are in their own progression. What we learned from the last two games is that England can currently only play one way and teams have worked that out. They were so woefully short of ideas and intensity against Ireland that they were made to look a very average side. If England are reaching the outer limits of their capabilities then this championship win will prove to be a flash in the pan and they will return to the mediocrity of much of the latter half of the last decade.

The young talent in the team suggests that this will not be the case. They will be better for their Dublin experience. They are a confident bunch who should react in the right way and some of those whose feet were in danger of leaving terra firma will have been done a power of good from receiving a reality check. The to-do list is pretty widely agreed: find a centre partnership with an iota of penetration and learn that more hard work needs to be done tying in the opposition before you can go wide. But overall, England end the tournament undoubtedly in credit and growing valuable depth in certain positions.

Gallic ‘mare
The French continue to be afflicted by bipolar disorder. On paper they should really win this thing every year and they showed glimpses of how good they could be. But more often they looked confused, directionless and strangely disinterested. The players can only be deeply affected by the knowledge that their coach clearly bases his selections on horoscopes, tarot readings, names in a hat or some other random method. They certainly appear to have little or nothing to do with rugby. Why else would he drop the phenomenal Imanol Harinordiquy or increasingly influential Morgan Parra?

Lievremont has given an object lesson in how to get as little out of an outstanding bunch of players as possible, including erratic selection, public criticism and motivating the opposition. Having said that, this group of players have themselves been erratic for too long and are poor at taking responsibility. But you cannot help think that if Nick Mallet and Lievremont had swapped teams then not only would Italy not have beaten France but they would have been slaughtered. So are France on the up or on the way down? It is impossible to say because, as ever, France’s progress chart looks rather like a healthy cardiogram.

Celtic passion play
Without wanting to sound in the least bit bitter, if I was a Scotland or Ireland supporter I would be pretty cheesed off and would be demanding answers. Why is it that a professional sports outfit can only be bothered to turn up and play to or near their potential when a certain team homes into view? It must have been frustrating enough to watch Ireland scrape past Italy and lose to Wales and France when it just seemed that the team were not that good. But to discover that they are actually capable of putting in the best performance of the Championship and could have challenged for a Grand Slam would have annoyed me hugely. Obviously teams have good days and bad days. England had a bad day themselves in Dublin. But Ireland’s performance was so far from what they had managed only seven days earlier that it beggared belief.

We have seen this from Scotland before. The old saying ‘we don’t care as long as we beat the English’ has always been a bit of fun but was a sentiment which should have died with the amateur era. It palpably has not. It is a little man mentality, similar to that suffered by England against Australia in cricket for years. It is an unprofessional mindset that ultimately wins nothing.

Wales continue to rival the French on the erratic front but if James Hook is given his head at 10, their props return and Jamie Roberts rediscovers himself they will have the spine of a serious team. Warren Gatland however needs to stop publically criticising his players. The tough Kiwi act has worn thin and he is living off the 2008 Grand Slam. Since then he has achieved very little of note.

Raging Robbo
Returning to the subject of Scotland, I am rather worried about Andy Robinson. The man is going to do himself a mischief one of these days. Given how Scotland played at times in the Championship, the cameraman given the role of ‘Robbo-cam’ probably had the best seat in the house. The BBC’s technical innovation for next season should be ‘press the red button to see a live read out of Andy Robinson’s heart rate and blood pressure’. He should also be miked up, primarily because it would be entertaining, but also so we don’t have to listen to a series of Kiwi officials parading their lack of knowledge of the scrummaging laws. And Brian Moore.

Babbling BBC
Which neatly leads on to the BBC’s television coverage. This often seems to be as intense an annual debate as the rugby itself. I have never minded Moore too much but he is increasingly morphing into rugby’s Fred Trueman. Every scrum is followed by Moore grumbling unintelligibly to himself about something or other, every play ends with someone doing something ‘dull’ or ‘brainless’. And all the while next to him, Eddie Butler paints his picture with as broad a brush as possible without letting himself get bogged down in irrelevant detail. Like getting players’ names right.

Aside from them, Jonathan Davis is as one-eyed as they come (although quite entertaining), Andy Nicol appears to not watch any rugby at all between tournaments so obvious are most of his points and it’s only a matter of time before someone lamps Sonia the interviewer. But Inverdale remains outstanding and Dallaglio, Guscott and Wood incisive.

King Sergio
The final word goes to Italy. They may have yet another wooden spoon for their overflowing cutlery drawer but their victory against France could prove a coming of age. They competed well in all other games too apart from the debacle at Twickenham. At some stage they will have to make a definitive step forward and their games are rarely decent spectacles but the French victory has given them a huge boost. In Sergio Parisse they had the player of the tournament. He put in a series of startling displays and would grace any team in the world.

By Stuart Peel

14 thoughts on “Musings on a confusing Six Nations Championship

  1. I really do not know what everyone has against the BBC coverage. Granted Moore and Davies are a little biased and largely moan a lot of the time but I like that whole WWE colour commentator feeling it gives to a game. I’m not a fan of the fact that largely the coverage is fairly England-centric. The BBC goes to other countries as well you know. But I have Scrum V to watch in Wales so that issue doesn’t really bother me either. I think all around it is pretty good coverage and at least it is not on flipping Sky Sports. There is no adverts to sit through and (other than the licence fee that you should be paying anyway) there is no extra charge to watch the games. If you do not like the commentators turn the sound off.

    Anyway on to the Rugby, I pretty much agree with all you have to say. I have a sneaking suspicion that no northern hemisphere team is going to be good enough to beat the big three come the world cup and some (Italy, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and maybe even France) may even get unexpected losses to Argentina or one of Samoa, Figi or Tonga. I look forward to being proved wrong hopefully.

    My highlights of the tournament
    Italy v France (obviously).
    and Chris Ashton picking a fight with ROG near the end of the game. I think what made it for me was ROGs knowing smile afterwards.
    In fact any moment where Chris Ashton looked silly was good for me. Where he swan dived in for a try and it was disallowed was fun too. (Can’t remember which game). He is potentially a very good player but he needs to grow up a bit. Maybe I’m just bitter because he’s not Welsh?

  2. I confess that i am not 100% satisfied with this six nations, but it has at least been enternaining. What am i going to do on my Saturday afternoons now?? The general standards of the matches was quite good, a fair few tries scored and i am looking forward to the RWC in september. And i disagree with Moggy, i think that the Northern hemisphere teams always stand a chance against the Southern giants.
    Highlight of the tournament for me has to be Chris Ashton against Italy, he has got some potential!

  3. I disagree on the standards of the matches being quite good Chris. I would say they were poor except for Ireland’s display against England and England’s against Italy. However, the NH will still be competitive against the Tri-Nations teams at the RWC in the same way that Leeds are competitive in the Premiership – always able to put together a result or string a few results together but really aren’t on the same level.

    Moggy – your comment reminded me of Ashton completely losing his head at the end of the Ireland game. He looked like a fool rushing around trying to smash O’Gara for the last few minutes.

    Talking of losing their heads – did anyone see the brawling between Perpignan and Bayonne from a few weeks back? I just watched it on rugbydump – that Le Corvec bloke needs to be banned for a long while. Lievremont will probably pick him.

  4. I like your point about Ireland. Everyone was raving about how good they were and how poor England were but nobody seemed to want to point out the fact that they should have produced that level of performance when it really mattered, not just because it was against England. All that performance did was paper over the cracks that remain.

  5. Moggy – Yes! But I would be bitter if I was Welsh anyway.

    O’Gara’s a consummate professional. Meaning he knows exactly how to wind the opposition up.

  6. Generally an entertaining 6 Nations with most participants keeping us on the edge of our seats in anticipation of how they’ll play the next match. Highlight for me was the Scotland v Italy match when the former finally scored in Murrayfield for the first time in a long time. Shockers, well there were plenty of them; England, bow your heads in shame!

    My real gripe with 1st class rugby is what is going on at the scrum. Referees don’t seem to want to let the packs play, there are endless re-sets, there is often a penalty called within seconds of contact, the wrong side is often singled out and the ball is fed backwards by the No’ 9 almost every time. As a result of these antics there is rarely a contest, time is lost, the game becomes boring and makes a mockery of Rugby Union.

    The more this is allowed to continue the closer Union gets to losing its forward game and I for one will be switching off the World Cup if something is not done about this. So is it overzealous actions of referees, a misinterpretation of the new scrummaging rules by the refs’, or simply barmy new rules imposed by the IRB?

    And the most annoying thing in World rugby today is: “TOUCH……(a huge pause before another word is uttered)….PAUSE, (they just did that Ref, whilst waiting for the word ‘Pause’ to arrive)…ENGAGE (thank God; both packs were about to topple forward as a result of boredom induced sleep anyway!)”

  7. Disagree about Brian Moore – genuinely knows about scrummaging and he’s right about nobody putting the ball in straight and – as he says – it seems to be an offence for some teams and not for others. Admittedly he used to be terribly partisan (everyone’s a cheat apart from England) but he has evolved into a pretty even-handed observer….notably during the Scotland game. I would survive hearing a little bit less from Sonia, but at least she’s better to look at than any of the others.

  8. Ireland will beat any SH team (excluding ABs) in the World Cup. Classic flawed sporting mentality – come down to the level of poor opposition, but get up for the historically strong teams (excluding ABs). So Ireland to beat Australia but maybe slip up against Italy in their Pool. South Africa and Australia are no where near as good as they think they are- same can be said of England and Wales. Ireland through to the final – France having incredibly knocked out the ABs again! WC final prediction – Ireland robbed of world cup through a series of blatantly illegal referring decisions.

  9. i disagree with you there. Ireland had one good game in the entire six nations, that doesnt make them world beaters. This RWC should be very competitive but i dont think that the Irish team has anything particularly amazing. On the other hand i think the English and Welsh team have far more potential.

  10. Hi Chris (Ashton) by any chance?
    Whatever about (developing) England – Wales are absolutely leaderless any potential will be wasted. Wales to lose to SA and Fiji (2007 QFs) Ireland will be further buoyed by winning Heineken and Magners. You read it here first!
    Yours sincerely,
    Ding Dong

  11. Im not ashton by the way. i can see what you mean about wales, although i doubt they will loose to fiji, if they play hook at 10. And Munster have won the heiniken cup plenty of times, but Ireland have never ever won a world cup, in fact Ireland has never gotten past the quarter finals.

  12. Leinster never won the Heineken cup before they won it. Have the “triple crown” t-shirts printed up already: Leinster – Heineken / Munster – Magners / Ireland robbed in World Cup final. Talking to NIKE about distribution rights.
    Will I put you down for one?

  13. Ha ha, i think not. In fact i would be willing to bet that Ireland dont make it past the quarter finals of the RWC, i think that would be a safe bet, and i dont even think that Munster will win the Heiniken. I think that Leicester will win.

  14. I totally agree with you that Munster won’t win the Heineken – that’s why I said Leinster would win it. Munster will win the Magners. I can see why you are so confused – it was a very confusing 6 nations. Glad to see you’re supporting Ireland up to the QFs.

    Ding Dong

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