Nobody quite knew how this new International tournament would pan out but between the Fiji débacle and a constantly buffering Amazon (in my household anyway) to date it has been a mixed and rather soggy bag with some spluttering fireworks alongside. I suspect that an anticipated England France dénouement will definitely whet the appetite.
I remember in the heydays at Bath, we were constantly criticised for conservative play and excessive concentration on defence and the riposte (not mine) was always that if the other side do not score we will always win. I remember being 40 points up with 15 minutes to go against a top side and spending the rest of the game tackling everything that moved to ensure that they remained scoreless. All this with a world class backline capable of unleashing havoc from any part of the pitch. So too for the double grand slam winning England team I was fortunate to be part of – it all sounds familiar reading the reaction in some quarters to England’s three games so far this autumn?
I subscribe to the view that this England team intend never to be physically taken out again as they were in the World Cup Final. The hurt will remain until they get their revenge in 2023 – at least that must be the narrative. Last weekend’s match at Twickenham was therefore an intended exercise in physical masochism, almost cathartic.
England may not care that they played for most of the Ireland match without the ball because they knew that without Sexton, Ringrose, Larmour, Henshaw and Conway there was little to fear other than honest endeavour. I wonder about the Irish attack coaches explanation for their one track approach because it turned into a test of England’s tackling technique against a frontal assault, one they would never fail. Meantime two flashes of May brilliance sufficed to occupy the column inches and cause people to compare it to Chris Ashton’s length of the field effort versus Australia. Just for the record, there is no comparison. If you watch how May turned Chris Farrell inside out, burned him for pace and controlled the ball like Lio Messi for 50 yards then we will all understand just how good that was.
In the previous matches, a rainy night against Georgia was enlivened by Farrell’s slashing break and Young’s eye for a gap while a consummate piece of skill from Slade and Joseph against Italy was just enough for a TV audience on emergency rations. God only knows what Ollie Lawrence makes of it all who is now injured but probably more down to stiff joints due to inactivity.
Elsewhere, the outrageous talent of Vakatawa and Rattez with of course the irrepressible Dupont was enough against Scotland on another night for the purists, cue Wales/Georgia and Wales/Scotland. France look ominous if still unlikely to peak before 2023 rather than Saturday week.
Thought for the autumn – Has there ever been worse (intentional ) kicking at this level since the beginning of International Rugby?
It is certainly much tougher for International Rugby to play behind closed doors because of the inevitable lack of atmosphere but for a tournament that was replacing development tours and therefore laying the ground for youngsters to come through, we have all been left wishing for more ambition.
On a brighter note let us welcome the belated Govt funding for the game. We even have some crowds set to return but the timing is as illogical as the original decision to impose a blanket ban. Enough said, the grey skies are lightening somewhat off the field and of course the Heineken Champions Cup hoves into view shortly with a cracking new format. Keep smiling!