I can be forgiven for looking in both directions this week and when I say that I mean back to the last double back-to-back Grand Slam in 1992, in which I played, as well as forward to another in prospect in Dublin. All week I have been wearing the Double Grand Slam cufflinks we were awarded all those years ago and reading with amusements the comparisons being made between the two sides. Eddie’s squad is indeed on the verge of greatness, as he has suggested. But first…
I thought rugby was doing its own version of ‘fake news’ as a hopeful Scottish team arrived at HQ but were made to go home ‘tae think again’. I even had a close game in mind, but not an apparent game of touch rugby in the middle of the field. Or was it? I have been critical of the midfield morass for four years, culminating in the mindless selection of Sam Burgess. So I will celebrate Saturday’s masterclass. It was as good as anything I have seen from England, while Scotland’s middle three have realised that their development is exactly that, if they all survive that experience. Sharp passing – patchily in evidence so far – wonderful lines of running and sheer pace and power. Irresistible and based on quick ball. That combination is rarely achievable; it is based on skill, mindset, total confidence and trust. What this has done is shown that England, in my opinion, can shout to the world that their attacking prowess is in as good a shape as their set piece, bench ‘finishers’ and their uncanny ability to close games out.
Jonathan Joseph is possibly inked into a Lions centre slot along with Farrell, and Sexton’s apparent frailty may hand it to Ford to complete the trio. JJ’s hat trick stole the headlines but it was Watson’s try that shows how Joseph is seeing the game. Beautiful support running, buying time and holding space and injecting Watson through an unstoppable run to the line. World class.
Of course, they won’t have it easy against the Irish and the weather systems are being watched closely – sunny dry days at Lansdown Road are at a premium for matches like this – except in 2003 when an angry Martin Johnson led England to a 40 point Grand Slam win in summery conditions. Followed by the World Cup!
For us in ’92, the big hurdle had been the grudge match against the French in Paris, a match that sits indelibly in my mental rugby scrapbook. The planned revenge for a Quarter Final defeat in RWC 1991, media warnings of mayhem and a Brian Moore retort that we would hand it back with interest. The pre-match was notable for a stand off in the tunnel when the two teams almost clashed, and then did on the field in a big way. They had two sent off and we won by a record score. Indeed the whole season was a record of 18 tries and only two conceded. That memorable team of 1992 had truly peaked, and to beat Wales to nil at Twickenham to finish it off signalled the end of an era. We should have won at least one more Grand Slam in 1990 – remember that one ?! – but that loss arguably gave us the last push we needed to achieve the double.
This England team have far from peaked. It is conventional wisdom that they have to lose a big one between now and 2019 RWC in order to fill up the emotional rugby coffers with that essential hurt from a major defeat. Or perhaps thats why the RFU via Eddie wants the All Blacks this November!!
Whatever happens this weekend, England have that look in their eyes and I for one cannot wait because the proud Irish will also have their say. Bring it on.