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Can England Light It Up In Lyon?

For those who do not know, England’s last 6 Nations destination, Lyon, has an amazing history dating back to Roman times. Also the Festival of Light ( Fête de Lumières) on December 4th each year is an incredible event based on a city’s prayers to the Virgin Mary against a 17th Century plague. Lyon is also a culinary capital of France which will please some of the travelling England supporters. I know all this because. When I was Chairman of European Rugby, my first Finals between Saracens and Racing 92, also Harlequins and Montpellier, were hosted by this great city.

However, the French welcome this weekend will I predict be somewhat inflammatory. Their pack will be monstrous  and vengeful for their average season to date even if their backs lack both personnel and the traditional spark. Even so it was enough to see off a callow Wales side at home and a good victory over England will leave them satisfied. They know England have found some essential ingredients, namely confidence and belief, built of an understanding that their previous performances were neither fun to play in nor to watch. Do those players want to experience the outpouring of support again? You bet. There is no going back now and I can dust down my usual assertion over the years that behind very selection corner there is a great England team somewhere – how can there not be with all that resource!

As for last weekend, let us ignore the many reasons that Ireland failed to win, chief among them that England kept going even when they fell behind twice, normally a signal for a comprehensive closing out. A scrumhalf on the wing and a crucial yellow card was all that a fiery and rampant England needed to capitalise and then a failed exit in the last minute which mirrored the idiotic kick by Wales last year that lost the game to Italy. The hosts were a group of players with 1000 caps under their belt and a few new ones who were being told they simply didn’t have what it took, on their own ground, against a World Cup quarter finalist who had bottled the big occasion. I suggested last week that a ‘vicious kickback’ was likely and Ben Earl’s post-match comments summed up the emotion.

Two points to leave you with – Slade’s sublime timing of the pass to Lawrence for his score, and Itoje’s precision pass to Furbank for a key score in the second half. Those moments can mean that you beat the best, they were sheer quality and what you pay the entrance fee for (well almost).

As for glorious Italy, they got the win that the previous week should have been theirs and they have some wonderful players now in key positions, No 8 and centre especially. Will the desperation to avoid the Wooden Spoon allow Wales some relief, and the emotion of George North’s last ever match after 120 caps? It is a tough call and will be a match worth watching just for that.

Sadly, the Ireland Scotland clash no longer has the intensity it could have, with Ireland likely to take the title that will seem empty to them versus what they really desired. I can only say that a Double Grand Slam is as rare as hen’s teeth. Two achieved in the last 100 years, one of them by the wonderful squad of 91/92 led by Will Carling and in which I was lucky enough to play a part. No data straight-jacket there, the only data was how many beers we consumed post match. Seriously though , part of that double grand slam was a torrid win over the French who were bursting for revenge after the World Cup Quarter FInal they lost ( to us) in 1991. Sound familiar?  They brought fire and brimstone the following year but we brought more – leading to a record win but only after an 80 minutes of unbelievable intensity. Let us see if England can back up last week – a very different challenge and another step along the way.

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