Being a sports geek, I was in my element this past weekend. Rugby’s Six Nations tournament kicked off – this is an annual competition where the 4 “Home Nations” of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales play against each other, our Gallic cousins, France, and the Six Nations newcomers, Italy. This years tournament has been billed as the most open competition in years, with the reigning Rugby World Champions England in disarray after several bad results, with the traditionally strong French (current Six Nations Champions) also off the boil, and last years runners up (but Triple Crown winners), Ireland, in excellent form. Wales and Scotland both
showed good form during the autumn internationals against the southern hemisphere visitors, South Africa and the mighty All Blacks.
Stade de France, early on Saturday afternoon, found itself host to the first game of the tournament. With France being off form, and Scotland wooden-spoon favourites, this was not expected to be a classic, and lived up to its billing. However, it did manage to create much controversy. A lucky French side scraped passed Scotland after some dubious calls from the match officials, including a disallowed try upon which Scotland’s fate hinged. Unfortunate and disappointing – rugby’s superb officiating (normally far superior to that of almost any other field sport) may have let us down on this occasion. The Scottish management team strongly agree. Final score: 16-9 to France.
Wales – England was the second game, starting a useful 2 hours after the first game ended (thanks to the BBC for their fantastic scheduling!). England were just about favourites for this one, Wales having proved themselves recently with some good performances, notably their single point loss to New Zealand in November. Against expectations, Wales took the lead 4 minutes from time, with a fantastic penalty from their new star Gavin Henson, to take a dramatic win at 11-9.
After watching the first 2 games, particularly noting the poor kicking at goal and bad performances from England and France, I was feeling quite confident about Irelands chances in 6N 2005. Wales are an unknown, but we have them in Cardiff, and we always beat them in Cardiff – well, since 1983 anyway ð
Set up for a strong Irish performance as we were, we knew the Italians would be tough – they have a very powerful pack and have consistently improving lately. We expected a hard game. Little did we realise just how hard…
Italy played brilliantly, the best I’ve ever seen them. They rucked mauled and scrummaged us off the park, were consistently faster to the breakdown, and adapted to the law changes better than we did. Our pack was slow and ineffective, and our backline received very little ball. Luckily for us, our backline are on another level, and don’t necessarily require a whole lot to turn a match on its head. O’Driscoll is rugby genius personified, regardless of how much we dislike his haircut. It’s easy to recognise his calibre: he simply makes it all look so easy.
So it almost brought me to tears to see both O’Driscoll and D’Arcy, his centre partner, go down with suspected torn hamstrings, and their associated 6-8 week recovery period: the last game of the 6N is March 13th! Thankfully today, after scans on Monday evening, Eddie O’Sullivan announced that the pair “came through their scans last night, and it looks as if things aren’t as bad as we originally thought”. Great news!
What abouty the result against Italy? Well, that was a fairly close 28-17 to Ireland, and we’re still in the hunt for a Grand Slam this year thanks to our wonderful backs.
An interesting start to the tournament – we’ll see how the games go this week, with Ireland in Edinburgh and Wales in Rome on Saturday, and England away to France on Sunday.