England succumbs to ‘pure beauty’, fear of French ‘fragility’, ‘Gatland honeymoon turns to dust’
Netflix looked for a way to regenerate their business and they did worse than engage in a behind-the-scenes project with the Six Nations Championship.
Which category do you prefer? Horror? Try Wales in the first half against Ireland? Drama? Scotland come back from an eight point deficit to beat the Auld Enemy at Twickenham. (Warning. This is a repeat. Scotland also won there in 2021, drew in 2019 and have now beaten England three times in a row for the first time since Hadrian built that wall and Robert the Bruce has done his job at Bannockburn (same story, then, but at least the cast has been revamped).
Suspense? Could Italy, oh Italy, could they, could they maintain that two-point lead against mighty France? So much for the sports fanatics among you. And the ballet? Even though there aren’t many leading men in leotards that top the scales at 105kg of the Scottish wing, Duhan van der Merwe does, but for his sheer beauty, his slalom dash he 55-yard try was one of the finest pieces of artistic theater ever seen at Twickenham, so so reminiscent of the late David Duckham whose equally smooth effort for the Barbarians against the All Blacks had recently been picked up on the occasion of the recent 50th anniversary of that famous game at Arms Park.
We tend to get a little heated up north when we arrive at the annual party between European neighbors, all complacent and overexcited about the value of the championship. South of the equator, it was once criticized that the best booze party happened in the north, but the quality of food on offer was more substantial in the south.
This 2023 championship is the tournament that will really put all of those theories to the test. On opening weekend, it’s hard to find too many faults. Ireland’s first victory in Cardiff in ten years, a hair’s breadth away from recording their biggest away win there, winning with plenty to spare and with acknowledged room for improvement, was classy. It would also be rude to poke too many holes in what was a fabulous Calcutta Cup, all broadcast to millions of terrestrial viewers. Scotland, Ireland and South Africa are in the same World Cup group. Suddenly this pool looks pretty tasty.
At a time when rugby in these regions is in crisis with shameful examples of stubborn misogyny in Wales, accusations of collusion and intimidation in France, union disdain for a distressed player who ended up taking her own life in Scotland and massive public relations incompetence in England as well as gross financial mismanagement at two of its clubs, there was a real need for the sport to present a different and healthier front. These scandals will not be erased by a few thrilling matches. But, boy, was it a relief for the fans to have some upbeat news.
Ireland, real contender for the World Cup? You bet. They may have dived as Wales rallied in the second half, with the prospect of utter humiliation spurring them on to some sort of meaningful activity even though we all knew the game was already beyond them. , but they didn’t panic, they just rode the rambunctious patch before making sure they claimed the all-important bonus point with Josh van der Flier’s try in the closing stages.
Ireland as a country went through many traumatic experiences before emerging into the more assured, more layered, more multicultural and multidimensional entity that it is today. His rugby team also endured its fair share of gloom and desperation along the way before finally gaining a new-age identity. No more brave losers, no more flatterers to fool, no more lightning victories, no more heights before falling backwards.
Tellingly, Ireland have now embraced favorite status, welcoming the pressure they bring rather than running away from it. New Zealand faced it for decades, used it as a spur to even greater achievement.
The unapologetic culture was on display even before kick-off with two late dropouts including livewire scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, the catalyst for so much in the 2022 Irish whiz-bang, injecting rhythm into all areas of the game. It doesn’t matter. One man falls, another intervenes. If there were any fears that veteran No.9 Conor Murray could dampen Ireland’s ambition, they were grossly disillusioned with such an idea by the game-winning three-try combo. Ireland through midway through the first half.
Caelan Doris in the back row, Hugo Keenan in the back, Garry Ringrose crisp in the center – Ireland have a lot of clout in their ranks. As well as Johnny Sexton. And, yes, their World Cup prospects fade if the aging maestro were to get screwed. It’s Ireland’s Achilles’ heel.
Match days in Cardiff can ruin the toughest people. The crush, the grog, the crack, the antics, the delirium. For a long time, it seems like half the Welsh team was still settled on Chip Alley, that well-known and well-lubricated Hades in the town centre. In the coaching room, Warren Gatland’s face told its own story. The expected rebound from the Great Redeemer’s return had turned into a flop. Honeymoons aren’t supposed to turn to dust so quickly. Tough Love Island for the Waikato man.
Of course, Gatland knows there are few fairy tales in sport. The 59-year-old didn’t acquire such a gray look just by birth. He’s had all those experiences, the lows and all the highs of his previous tenure as Wales coach. His immediate predecessor, fellow Kiwi, Wayne Pivac, is a decent operator. Wales’ results, including home defeats to Italy and Georgia, were drawn as the team were riddled with flaws. The swing factor was on full display in a grueling first half against Ireland. Flat feet, unruly, slow in thought and action.
As for Scotland – well, well done, for taking the game to England, well done for not fading and folding and well done for such a sustained performance. But let’s see the rest before rushing to change the predictions for this World Cup group. If Scotland can repeat and repeat, we’re all in for a treat.
There will be many who will revel in England’s continuing woes on the scoreboard. That, after all, is part of the very spice of the championship. But there was enough merit in England’s defeat, the footballing exuberance of Max Malins two-try down the wing, ball-carrying props, Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, to suggest they have more courage and unity about them than they have shown. in the last days of Eddie Jones.
And France, everyone’s favorite for World Cup honours? Well, we thought we’d say goodbye to that old cliché of not knowing which France might turn up in any given game, but there was more than a glimpse of that old frailty before they finally emerged in Rome. They travel to Dublin for what already looks to be the Championship decider. One to savor. Netflix executives will be salivating.