As the 6N deals with its own Covid challenges, Premiership Rugby was experiencing another painful reminder about the reality of improving safety in our game. 5 red cards in three matches the other weekend for head contact caused dismay but a different reaction to that of a couple of years ago. Then, ex players and coaches were holding their own heads in dismay or rolling their eyes at decisions which were ‘ruining’ a game which was apparently going soft.
No longer – the players and scientists have spoken loudly and now let us watch the behaviour change. Certain defence coaches will have to change their story. The very best of them all, Shaun Edwards, got there before them and the worst news for other European rugby nations/clubs is that the new discipline is seeping into French consciousness under his tutelage. We also learnt that Wales has not suffered a yellow or red card for 14 matches which could be one reason behind their success and a legacy of Edwards?
Talking of which, rarely can a Wales v England match have generated so many headlines. A record score for the men in red, and very grumpy behaviour from the visitors. Wayne Pivac whispered it quietly that he had been giving youngsters their chance in the Autumn and perhaps this performance was conclusive justification of that approach- Rees-Zammit, Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy have come of age and effectively won the game for their country.
Elsewhere, Cameron Redpath of Scotland, Craig Casey and Hugo Keenan of Ireland, Steve Varney and Paolo Garbisi of Italy, have all marked out a bright International Future having been given a chance.
As for the French, they approach Twickenham at the weekend having nearly triumphed with their third team back in the Autumn. Their top picks are still youngsters so it will be a fascinating contrast. A rather grim faced England squad was having to watch sensational Premiership matches this weekend just gone with untrusted talent blossoming wherever you look and performing in some problem positions for England. However, a shot at redemption for the incumbents is not to be underrated.
While Covid may or may not have disrupted France, England has a massive point to prove and with most of the same players it seems. I have said often there is always a good England team around the corner because of their resources, and selection is the key. I remember when 6 England players were banned for fighting/dirty play (no Welsh mind you) and three more dropped in 1987 after the Arms Park debacle – I and many others were then selected against Scotland who were chasing the Triple Crown, bursting with British Lions and on the day we crushed them. Heart, soul, belief and pride.
These qualities can take you a long way in rugby, and talking of which no rugby team should go unprepared to Cornwall, the ‘Badlands’ as described by the Pirates coach, which Saracens obviously did to their cost. In my Bath days, Redruth Rugby Club was all about Hellfire corner (a slice of their ground at the bottom of a steep slope, against the wind, always muddy and impossible to escape from) and you knew to get ready for a tustle, win or lose.
Even in today’s pre- programmed world, rugby can spring great surprises which is why we all love the game and will look forward avidly to this weekend.
Thanks for reading,