The dysfunctional nature of our underperforming club game in England was never more obvious than at the weekend as two of the country’s best players in their position could not appear for the top of table clash between Sale and Saracens. A dramatic contest did not hide the absence of Ford and Farrell. The domestic and international game need to complement each other with no overlaps. Recent trauma has made this development non-negotiable. An imminent restructure in the calendar in England will allow the richest resource in World Rugby the chance at least to compete and it can’t come soon enough.
Oh, apart from selection and coaching, key components of a successful side which we simply have been unable to get right since 2016 and before that 2003. Talking of which, the critical decision around England’s midfield will determine the outcome of England v France this weekend. I won’t call it Le Crunch, sadly, because the importance of this match has dissipated. The Celtic equivalent is on show at Murrayfield this weekend. But the understrength French pack should have Itoje and his men licking their lips. Talking of whom, England really need him at his best, six years on from the Lions tour of NZ when he was supreme. It could make the difference alongside a decision-making midfield.
Never has a Triple Crown been more keenly sought than by Scotland and Ireland (not forgetting they have to finish the job the following week against England). Those who look back at my blogs will know that my admiration for the Scottish performances has been long held. Gaining a seat at the top table is a matter of fine margins – remember Rugby World Cup 2015 Quarter Final v Australia at Twickenham and that agonising loss. They are there now in my view.
I genuinely cannot wait for this momentous clash. Ireland was well short of their best team in Italy, and many have returned to the starting line-up. Their confidence is undiminished. But Russell and co. know this is their main shot for the 6 Nations. Hogg needs his A game, and the Scottish backrow will have to play a blinder.
In the Eternal City, Italy will be overflowing with anticipation at the visit of a Wales team shorn of confidence and with only pride to play for. Every region lost at the weekend, one at home to Benetton. However, each time I was in a team written off as no hopers, it brought out an almost animal instinct to fight back and prove people wrong. Perhaps Italy’s position as favourites will create unforeseen pressure, and the Welsh hwyl can fill other gaps as well as some untimely weather. Message to Warren, aimless high balls won’t do it, but at least Capuozzo is unfit, and the lack of their talisman gives Wales a fighting chance.
This is a rugby weekend to savour-don’t miss it!