Poor rugby, good parties

February 5, 2010
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Up in the Northern Hemisphere, they’re packing their tin helmets and topping up their hip flasks for the second division tournament of world rugby. PETER BILLS previews the Six Nations.

The NZ Herald

It’s that time of the year again; the time when the European powers indulge in the international rugby fest they regard as the best in the world.

Whisper, at your peril, that their coveted, prestigious Six Nations Championship is in reality the second division tournament of world rugby.

At Croke Park and Twickenham this weekend, the latest instalments in this vibrant, pulsating, unpredictable, extraordinary and quite often thoroughly ordinary tournament will begin.

It’s the same format: the tried and trusted formula of mad, whirlwind weekends in London and Paris, or the morning train from Belfast down to Dublin for the afternoon test match and a glass or two of something decent and appropriate on the journey home.

Attention all stewards and cabin crews on the trains and planes – make sure your liquor supplies are full.

Irish rugby supporters have much reason to exude confidence this year. Has the air ever been so fine at this exalted attitude? Grand Slam winners, Six Nations Champions, Triple Crown holders and, just for a little extra, Leinster are Heineken Cup holders and, with Munster, already into the quarter-finals of this season’s tournament.

Italy at Croke Park on Sunday morning (NZ time) won’t be strong enough to match Ireland, but their scrum could be a test for Declan Kidney’s men. After all, Italian tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni is a one-man wrecking machine, as the All Blacks can testify.

But France in Paris the next weekend could pose problems for the Irish. That surely, will be one of the defining matches of the tournament. As Brian O’Driscoll reminded us last week, Ireland have won just once in Paris in the past 38 years. For sure, not exactly a record to generate false optimism …

But it isn’t ludicrous optimism to suggest this Irish side could again win this great tournament. They could even lose to France in Paris and still emerge, albeit shaken and very definitely stirred, as winners in late March.

The point is, the Six Nations is one of the most unpredictable series in world sport. Results arise that sometimes make you rub your eyes in disbelief.

Take the game in Dublin in 1993 when the bookies had all-conquering England at 10-1 to win at Lansdowne Rd.

Sure, it’d be a breeze, lads, and for sure it was … for Ireland.

France, whom O’Driscoll suspects are going to be the team to beat this year (and why not after their victories over New Zealand and South Africa in the past eight months?) start in Edinburgh against Scotland. This Scottish team will be highly organised and structured, as is the way with their new coach Andy Robinson. And they’ll be hugely encouraged by their defeat of Australia in the autumn. That was a notable scalp and will engender confidence.

Murrayfield has proved an enormous banana skin for the French in the past – and could be again. France should win, but … The French also have to go to Cardiff, late this month.

No easy task, I guarantee.

For then there’s the Welsh. Grand Slam winners in 2008, slipshod under-performers last year, their steely New Zealand coach Warren Gatland a true competitor down to his woolly socks, is still smarting at too many losses in 2009.

Expect them to come out, in true dragon fashion, hissing steam and fire at Twickenham this weekend.

Beyond argument, Wales have some class acts in their side. Jamie Roberts was an outstanding centre on the Lions tour last June. At his best, Lee Byrne is close to being the world’s No 1 fullback (although he may miss Twickenham through suspension) and Stephen Jones is a calm playmaker, an efficient distributor and reliable goal-kicker.

Captain Ryan Jones has looked back to his best in recent weeks with the Ospreys in the backrow and there is potentially an all-Lions front row. I suspect Wales won’t be too far away when the honours are handed out on March 20.

Thus, unless England are ready – Wales at Twickenham first-up could be a most tricky opening for the men in white and their demanding fans.

Might Martin Johnson – once an English icon with a Churchillian air to his leadership – face the sack if England fail again? Frankly, I doubt it.

Johnson looks bombproof until the 2011 World Cup, but if England fail to broaden their game and play some decent rugby, some of their assistant coaches could face the firing squad.

As ever, they’re certain to receive a fair and unbiased hearing from that sober, strictly neutral band of men, the English sports media.

England, like France, will again start off without several first choice men because of injury. Unlike the French, they don’t have that much quality in depth. There are myriad younger players with considerable promise.

But England need to deliver now – tomorrow can go hang.

Johnson forecast this week that many of the games would be close, the outcome separated by just a handful of points. A missed scoring opportunity here, a goalkick that sails narrowly wide there – these are the tiniest of factors that could decide individual games and, ultimately, a Grand Slam.

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

* Sunday: Ireland v Italy, England v Wales
* Monday: Scotland v France
* February 14: Wales v Scotland, France v Ireland
* February 15: Italy v England
* February 27: Wales v France
* February 28: Italy v Scotland, England v Ireland
* March 14: Ireland v Wales, Scotland v England
* March 15: France v Italy
* March 21: Wales v Italy, Ireland v Scotland, France v England

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25 Comments

  1. avatar JT says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Bills is a poephol! :shake:

  2. avatar Namboer says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Reply to JT @ 9:08 am:
    Indeed, don’t see the need to degrade NH comps.

    S14/3N might be the toughest, but NH gots the most $$$ and young & old leave the tough for that every day!

  3. avatar DavidS says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 10:19 am

    As ever, they’re certain to receive a fair and unbiased hearing from that sober, strictly neutral band of men, the English sports media.

    Brilliant and in this article

    Bills is right

    Rugby’s second division

    If it was first division than the Europeans would regularly win on their sojourns to the South in June… but as a rule they get klapped aside from the odd weirdness France manages to produce sporadically…

  4. avatar JT says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Aus and SA showed how 1st rate the SH rugby is in the last NH tour hey! :cuckoo:

  5. avatar JT says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    The history and tradition is something that the 3N can NEVER live up to and this is what this article is oozing with IMO – the jealousy of this Bills doos.

  6. avatar newbokshields says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Ja but JT much of that history comes from fans being able to travel a short distance and live the experience of the games.

    Now imagine the 4N (with Argie) is held every 2nd year but then held in one of the 4 host countries and all games are played there? Then surely many saffas will make the trip to Oz or Argie and so will legends be born.

    The 3N is a TV competition and very plastic as a result.

  7. avatar Ollie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Why are rugby people so obsessed with whatever competition they are involved with being the best?

    The same with comparing rugby to soccer, it’s only the rugby people who go out of their way to try and make rugby sound more macho/physical etc. or run down soccer as much as possible.

  8. avatar WiLLem says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Reply to JT @ 11:09 am:

    valid point

    and even supported by Shields 8O

    Its after aLL the attendance that validates the eFFort on field.

    The plastics are however the “boTTomline” Shields

    Lets argue that 3N wiLL stay as the suits “says so”.

    That does not stop the expanded 4 N to play the inbetwEEn RWC season 07-09-11-13-15 therefore in 2013 a hosted 4 nations (almost with a similar kind of fEEl with the B& I lions travelling).

    Its therefore 3 years of Normal 3/4 nations and then the 4 one is a BIG one for a country- coz aLL the games are there and maybe even more compacted in time.

    Should stiLL be working for TV and because it wiLL haPPen only every 16 years- it wiLL have some aLLure to travel to.

  9. avatar cab says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Reply to JT @ 11:11 am:
    lol, well said.

  10. avatar WiLLem says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Cab

    On the coMMent posted on the $harks thread

    You were not included as one of the “horsemen”, just as a maTTer of clarity. The argument or rather statement is suPPorting comments I made the other day that you kind of “agrEEd” with.

  11. avatar JT says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Reply to Ollie @ 11:42 am:

    Exactly! I love the 3N but that does not mean I need to crap all over the 6N which I enjoy just as much but for different reasons! It is like the S14 v HC debate! In certain ways each of these is better than the other! Both I would not miss!

  12. avatar cab says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Reply to WiLLem @ 11:59 am:
    lol, OO, did not see it, but your opinion is invariably always fair, even when i go overboard, so its good you around.

  13. avatar WiLLem says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Reply to cab @ 12:13 pm:

    Thanks – Even when you do go “overboard” this time you were not the intended target.

  14. avatar DavidS says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Reply to JT @ 11:09 am: Ja and the Lions did show how first rate NH rugby is in their tour of SA hey?

    Reply to Ollie @ 11:42 am:

    Speak sense little bonobo

    I don’t know what you are trying to say… that rugby is not macho or physical?

    Reply to JT @ 12:07 pm:

    Okay but the debate is valid…

    Mix the teams up and play say Top 4 HC vs Top 4 S14 and guaranteed the S14 teams will be playing alone in the Last of Four every time…. unless you have a Bulls side that must travel… :soek:

  15. avatar Ollie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Reply to DavidS @ 12:34 pm:

    Looks like they will have to create another branch on the primate tree for you, something for the Lesser Chimpwannabe.

    If you read and try understand it I am saying that rugby people tend have this need to express how much more macho/physical the sport is compared to soccer for no apparent reason.

    Like a one sided pissing contest.

    D o e s t h a t m a k e s e n s n o w o r m u s t I s a y i t s l o w l y ?

  16. avatar DavidS says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Reply to Ollie @ 12:39 pm: And I was asking how come you feel the need to say that? In what sense? What do you mean by that?

    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    vader alleen weet

    Why are you so defensive when ask a simple question…
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    bonobo

  17. avatar Ollie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Reply to DavidS @ 12:47 pm:

    It’s not what you ask but how you ask, Lesser.

    And I am referring to, surprise surprise, the main article of this thread, where Bills feels the need to rundown the 6N. All I did was take it further and say it is common practice, not only with rugby comps being compared but also with rugby/soccer.

  18. avatar DavidS says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    You asked the “obsession” question…

    Now answer it…

    Sorry bonobollie

    Not that easy…

  19. avatar Ollie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Reply to DavidS @ 1:00 pm:

    I wouldn’t ask it if I could answer it. I can only theorise.

    And if you can’t answer or have no decent comment about it then ignore it. Simple.

  20. avatar DavidS says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Oh I thought it was rhetorical and you had a theory of your won…

    Cool

    Chimps play rugby

    Bonobos play soccer

    That’s my “gret beeg fookin theeree”

    To quote bigboy from Trainspotting

  21. avatar Boertjie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Reply to WiLLem @ 11:59 am:

    You were not included as one of the “horsemen”,
    ======
    Natuurlik nie.
    Cab is mos ‘n skaapman.
    :wink:

  22. avatar Boertjie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    :handbag:

    Het julle twee PMS?

  23. avatar JT says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Reply to Boertjie @ 1:51 pm:

    nah PS14S

  24. avatar Ollie says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Reply to Boertjie @ 1:51 pm:

    Who? Me? Nah. :lol:

  25. avatar DavidS says:
    February 5th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Cab is ‘n skaapman
    Duiwel is ‘n horseman
    Shields is ‘n horseman
    Morne is ‘n horseman
    Ek is ‘n Oosrand brood
    En Ollie is ‘n bonobo

    Ek het nie pms nie ek like net om Ollie en cab kak te gee oor hulle so liberaal is…

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