Tuesday, 8 February 2011
2011: It’s all kickin’ off!
Yep, we are underway ... and not due to all these petty Super warm ups. I'm talking about the Six Nations kicking off last weekend. Test rugby again: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France & Italy have taken their first baby side steps for this calendar year, and giving us our first glimpse of where they just may be in terms of readiness for a RWC down under.
Friday Night Footy came to Cardiff (have I ever mentioned how much I hate Cardiff?). England showed glimpses of intent during their all too easy win over Wales by 26-19, and to be fair they deserve a teaspoon of credit for fronting up in the Millennium Stadium and getting the win. However, Wales were simply rudderless. Mike Phillips had a howler, and Stephen Jones looked to have his thinking scattered by a tackle in the opening seconds. The pack and backs never got going, and all Gatland's bluster in the weeks before just looks embarrassing now. If England could actually pass the ball with real confidence they would have won by more, but their ball skills are still way behind any of the Southern teams.
Ireland’s blushes in Rome were saved in the dying minutes by a Ronan O’Gara drop goal to win 13-11. Italy were 1 point up with minutes to go thanks to a steadily built try (by Aussie Luke McLean). The conversion was missed and soon after the wee pale pins of the recently subbed on O’Gara sunk the 3 pointer. What’s Italian for “Shite!”? Ireland were lucky ... they looked every bit a clueless & pedestrian as a two point win over the Azzurri would suggest. [Sorry, Italy ... but a wooden spoon is always handy for stirring pasta.]
Last up, France v Scotland. What would happen? Gallic flair? Hebridean pride? Or a messy, flaky mix of deep fried offal? Well, Les Bleus pulled out a class act on attack, scoring four tries (three run in, one a penalty try) to Scotland’s three, winning 34-21, and in the process purging some traumatic memories of getting mowed by the Wallabies late last year. Coach Leivremont had rejigged his backline substantially (longstanding centre Jauzion was out, and Damien Traille returned to his RWC 07 spot at fullback), and the counter attacking produced by the work of Mermoz, Medard, Traille, and new Test centre Rougerie looked like the Frenchies we love (and hate). Defence? Well, lets just reiterate that they ended up with more points than Scotland at the final whistle. I think had the Scots gone up the guts a bit more, like the play which got Sean Lamont his try, they may have turned things around. The French were too good, too quick this day, but I think that massive Scottish pack may yet prove one to watch, especially on the break.
After one round? Who knows? I can’t see a Grand Slam in the offing, or even a Triple Crown ... no one team looked complete yet, though England might be happiest. Next round they play Italy though, and this fixture has been their stumbling block to gaining real momentum in previous years.
I can't help but feel the SANZAR nations (especially us and Aussie) have an advantage this World Cup in terms of our playing calendar this time around. The Tri Nations teams get a time of year, kick-off times and even venues that are all far more familiar, while the 6N teams that have burst out of the blocks in January are surely going to have to scrape their teams back off the Premiership Beer Barons and Top 14 Telco Moguls, and organise some warm up games come August.
Naturally that means we can potentially lose someone to injury in the heat of the 3N this year, but with the spectre of rotation (hopefully) being long buried, its worth the risk to have your team truly battle hardened come September 9th this year.
Oh, and how shit is it that Sky NZ see fit to put the effing Six Nations on ESPN? The only reason I kept the bloody Rugby Channel was because last year it showed the Six Nations. ESPN? Don’t make me laugh. They cropped the picture tighter than Sonny Bill’s fringe.
Anyway, in conclusion, this past weekend I saw nothing that should worry 2011’s All Blacks.
Except Wayne Barnes with a whistle (shudder).