The Rugby Blog had gotten in touch. It had been a while; we hadn’t spoken since the latter stages of the Rugby World Cup. I’d written something apparently unprintable about Austin Healey and we’d just gone our separate ways. I’d missed them.
Their call couldn’t have been more timely. My work at the Swedish Au Pair outreach centre had fallen through after a difficult to explain situation I’d found myself in with two of the girls. On top of that, Mahrez and Vardy had stopped returning my calls, insistent that they could handle the run in on their own; I was sort of at a loose end. ‘Can you do some more of your irreverent funny stuff on the Six Nations?’ Hosie said, across the table, playing suggestively with his miniature umbrella. ‘Sure,’ I replied, and, without really thinking, signed the £10k a week contract.
On opening weekend, I’d reckoned on half decent rugby. Maybe a streaker, a semi decent punch up at least. Surely after the RWC, where the Northern Hemisphere had performed as well as Brendan Dassey in a memory contest, we’d have some sort of backlash.
Nope. So where should I begin? Let’s do this chronologically.
Paris, Saturday afternoon, just after lunch. Guy Noves in charge of Les Bleus. A man who had taken Toulouse to the height of European greatness (and most recently down to tepid mediocrity) presented a radically different French team to the one dicked by New Zealand in the Twickenham semi. They would kick off their campaign against Italy. The Azzuri outfit, written off by all who know how to spell rugby, would be meagre opposition.
Not for the French. Determined to make a match of it, and no doubt spurred on by the decision to wear some Le Coq Sportif kit left over from a European Handball competition, our hairy armpitted pen friends gleefully served up merde-filled paninis. Not that they were alone; both teams found new ways to cough up possession and concede points. The whole turgid affair came to a bizarre yet apt anti-climax, when Sergio Parisse, one of the few men on the pitch who’d played some good rugby, decided to sit back in the pocket and spoon his last minute half volley limp and left. The talismanic No.8 looked around sheepishly, like a rugby playing loose forward who’d just tried to kick a winning drop goal in the Six Nations even though he was shite at that type of thing.
Fast forward to Edinburgh. Early evening and a Calcutta match destined for greatness. After all, Scotland had only been an ill-timed Craig Joubert whistle blow away from losing to Argentina in the last four of the World Cup. England had a brand new head coach. Pretty much exactly the same team but maybe you didn’t hear me; a brand new coach. And he is, what they call, an Australian. Game on, muddy funsters!
There were moments. Nowell’s try was neat; Vunipola bashed his way around the park; Hartley didn’t bite anyone; England defended well; but new dawn? Scotland were abject at best; Kruis’ try was a poor concession; they couldn’t put any genuine offensive phases together; and even when Russell picked English pockets, he couldn’t hear Stuart Hogg screaming like a Glaswegian heroin addict outside him. So the fact England only beat them by six was probably all that needs to be said. Not that that stopped Eddie Jones. The England head coach and self appointed wisecracker-in-chief could not wait to remind everyone that a win was all they were after. “We’ve won the Calcutta Cup and next week (against Italy) we will win the Panini Cup.” Oh, OK, so I’m not the only one doing irreverent jokes.
Please let Dublin be different. Please let Dublin be different. The defending champions versus the best looking team on paper. Ireland were blighted by long list of injuries; Wales were blighted by a game plan that’s as predictable as a Tyson Fury Five Live phone in. Both sides knocked lumps out of each other, and even though Ireland stole into a first half lead, by the interval, the draw looked inevitable. The visitors’ efforts were not helped by an injury to Dan Biggar, nor the fact that they’d picked Rhys Priestland as his replacement, but ultimately, both sides looked a little blunt. It ended a savoury sixteen apiece and in doing so, Ireland and Wales gained absolutely naff all. A seemingly fitting end to a completely underwhelming opening weekend.
Maybe I’m expecting too much, but after round one, the Six Nations will have very few south of the equator charging out on to the training paddock. Can we all try a little harder next weekend? These articles won’t write themselves.
By Sam Roberts (@SamRobertsRugby)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images