I’ve not blogged about anything other than the Chinese flu for while, and we’ve all had enough if that, haven’t we?
So what else is there to talk about?
Ditto my comment above.
Anyone got any ideas?
Oh yeah … I know the Six Nations!
The 6N is unequivocally the best rugby tournament in the world. Every year, it arouses meteoric levels of excitement, even in soccer lovers and sport-averse women, that no other sporting contest can achieve.
However, in recent years – possibly aided by the inclusion of Southern Hemisphere referees whose interpretation of the laws invariably swings every game in which England feature their way, the tournament has become a bit … hmmm … flat? A tad predictable? And, talking of Southern Hemisphere refs, don’t get me started on Glen Jackson, who apart from being a lookalike for a male version of Adele, was the worst referee on the planet before he retired.
Consequently, in my unhumble opinion, four things need to happen to give this fabulous competition – dating back to 1883 – a shot in the arm (no reference to vaccines intended).
First of all, Italy should be given an ultimatum: either win at least ONE match within the next three years or you will be replaced in the tournament.
I’m not going to go into the swing and roundabout arguments over promotion and relegation in the 6N – one of which centres around whether the team replacing Italy (almost certainly Georgia) will be any better. It’s impractical to have a trap door every season, but perhaps the new nation invited to join the 6N should be given three to five years to find their feet.
Italy’s inclusion, back in 2000, was intended to broaden the appeal of rugby on mainland Europe, but we’re talking Mission Impossible here.
It was considered at the time that bringing in a lower tier team would help their development through financial backing, as they would be part of a major televised tournament, thus the tournament would grow as a whole, the aim being to build a European championship type event.
Nice sentiment – I have no argument with this, however let’s have a look at Italy’s record shall we?
Played: 107; Won: 12 (this includes 7 wins over Scotland, and I’ll come back to this in a minute); Drawn: 1; and lost (drumroll …) 94. They have ‘won’ the Wooden Spoon on 15/20 occasions, and are on schedule to ‘win’ it again this year.
Italy is a soccer country, and I’m sorry but if you take issue with me calling it soccer, then you really shouldn’t be reading this. To ask Italians to convert to rugby is like asking Richard Burton to turn gay, or tempting Oliver Reed to give up alcohol. It ain’t going to happen. Despite several high profile and undoubtedly able international coaches at the helm, there are no signs that at national level, Italian rugby is improving – even slightly.
As I write this, Italy are licking their wounds from yet another Twickenham defeat, albeit one in which they were briefly in the contest against a very average England outfit.
But the situation is more complex: for promotion and relegation to be accepted, all of the nations involved have to agree. And – with reference to my comment about seven of Italy’s wins being over Scotland – we’re talking turkeys voting for Christmas here.
Secondly, Scotland need to win the Championship, so that it doesn’t continue as a three horse race, with France, England and Ireland being the usual suspects.
Despite a lack of depth, Scotland is the most talented and ambitious side in this year’s tournament. They were denied what at one point looked to be a comfortable and deserved victory against the Sheep Botherers, by a ridiculous refereeing decision that led to Fagerson walking and Wales’ second consecutive victory against fourteen men.
Scotland’s lack of depth was exposed when Gary Graham, a walking beard of man, conceded more penalties than his entire team had given away against England.
Much as I want Ireland to win against Scotland, I would not shed any tears over a Scottish victory because – unlike Italy – they have spent the lockdown thinking about and working on their game and are a much better side for it. Their efforts deserve results, and if Ireland doesn’t win this year’s Championship, I sincerely hope that Scotland do.
Thirdly – and this on is a tad controversial – England need to axe ‘Sir Eddie’ and send him back to Japan, or wherever it was he came from. Why? Because he is not a pleasant person. His arrogance filters right through the squad and has even made vehemently despotic England supporters more obnoxious than they usually are. Beside which, even Brian Ashton had a better record as England coach. Although it is a fact that England have never – with one exception – shown any interest in playing an expansive, running game, Jones’ comment, “… we had no possession, mate,” has been countered on many occasions during the week with, “… that’s because you aimlessly kicked away virtually all the possession you had, mate.” Their performance against Italy at Twickenham didn’t restore the belief that they are World Cup Winners in waiting.
So who would replace him? Either Pat Lam or Rob Baxter would knock the arrogance off most of the squad, although some are too deeply entrenched in their own sphincters to be redeemed. But Lam’s style of rugby, thrilling Bristol fans and neutrals, is too far removed from the England psyche … a psyche whose DNA can be traced back to the dawn of rugby time and can be defined thus: possession, territory, forward domination and a lack of adventure will win (most) days. This is why Andrew was always preferred to Barnes, Farrell to Cipriana, and why Smith will never wear the No10 shirt. And Baxter? If he is ever offered the job I hope he has the good sense to turn it down. He would clearly (unlike Wayne Pivac with Wales) bring a little humility, unite, inspire and re-structure the ethos and the gameplan and remove the badge of perennial underachieves.
Finally, I would get rid of TMOs. In their last two matches, Wales have benefitted from the lengthy review of two instances of foul play. The first – against Ireland – was probably the correct decision under the interpretation of the laws. Yesterday’s was not – Fagerson’s clear out of a player at a ruck merited no more than a yellow … at most. What is a player supposed to do when he arrives at a ruck where there is still an active contest for the ball? Simply allow the opposition to have it? For goodness sake!
Right, there you have it. The four things that, in my view, need to happen – I suspect that none of them will.
Hasta Pronto chic@s!