Unless you are English or, for that matter, Scottish or Welsh! The middle Saturday of the 6 Nations has become known as Super Saturday for the fact that three internationals are played on the same day.
First off, for a rugby nut like myself, it is one of the best days of the year. I get to monopolise the TV for practically the entire day. But more importantly, yesterday saw three of the best games I've seen for some time.
First off was Scotland against Italy. With the game being played in Edinburgh at Murrayfield, this game was yet another where one's interest was how big would Scotland's winning margin be. For once, I was ready for the start of the match, and how lucky I was for that. Italy was 21-0 up within 7 minutes - 3 converted tries had put the team which has never won away from home, almost out of sight! All three tries came from Scotland errors the type of which, even schoolboys would never do. Scotland made things even worse for themselves by not kicking penalties as the usual Italian indiscipline crept in to their game. With the amount of kickable penalties awarded, Scotland could have been on level terms by half time, but they preferred, for reasons known only to themselves, to kick for position. What was even more impressive, was that the Italians didn't sit back, but took the game to Scotland and managed a couple more tries, including one for Alessandro Troncon Italy's 34 year-old scrum-half. Although Scotland did attempt a rally in the second half, on the day, they were always going to be second best after such an awful start and in the end, the 37 - 17 scoreline to Italy was a true reflection on the match, and their first away win was quite emphatically, in the bag.
Next up Ireland against England at Croke Park in Dublin.
For anyone who has followed the 'troubles' in Ireland will know that Croke Park has been home to Irish Gaelic Games since 1884, but is more infamously known as the place where the original 'Bloody Sunday' happened. November 21, 1920, a troop of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary Entered the ground and started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd killing 14 during a Dublin-Tipperary gaelic football match. This was in apparent retaliation to the killing of 14 British intelligence officers earlier that day by Micheal Collin's squad. From that day forward, it was decreed that no 'English' game will ever be played at Croke Park, and inparticular, no 'English' team will be welcome onto the ground.
However, Lansdowne Road, the traditional home of Irish rugby, is under development for the next few years, and Irish rugby has been, temporarily moved across to Croke Park. Given all the cultural background to this game, there was a real possibility of 'problems' at the game, and in particular when 'God Save The Queen' was sung and played. What I witnessed brought a tear to my eye, and a pride in my heart that I support a game that has the best and most noble of supporters. Where I expected cat-calls and whistles, barracking and shouting (there were even reports that the Irish would turn their backs when the anthem was played) I was immensely
pleased to see everyone in the ground who were not English, standing respectfully and quite, and at the end, giving the English team a round of applause of welcome. A truly, but characteristically Irish welcome to the English.
Unfortunately, that is where the welcome ended as the Irish team led by the magnificent O'Driscoll at Outside Centre (my old position) cruelly and ruthlessly to England apart. I don't want to go into details at this stage - it hurts too much, but to echo England Coach, Brian Ashton's words, "We were stuffed". Ireland beat England 43 - 13 - their biggest ever winning margin in this or the previous 5 Nations tests. England choked at Croke Park.
Finally, under the floodlights at the Stade de France in Paris, France took on Wales. History indicates that this should have been a good match for Wales, having won their last 4 matches at the ground. Moreover, the French are not too happy to play under floodlights. The game certainly started off well for Wales with 2 tries and conversions, but as the dust started to settle on the first frantic quarter, France started to impose themselves on their visitors and countered with tries and penalties of their own. The second half was a 40 minute demonstration of keeping it tight and controlled, and apart from a couple of occasions, one of which led to a Welsh try, didn't give the Welsh opportunity to put anything together. However, compared with the two previous matches, this game was a much more even affair, though a late score saw France take the honours, 32 -21.
Wales have now lost all 3 games and are languishing in the wooden spoon position. There next match is against Italy, which previous form would indicate a win to Wales, but from what I saw yesterday, all bets are off. Italy have found some belief, but more importantly, a style of rugby that suits them and is now paying off.
Role on to next week!