The annual 6 nations international rugby tournament is back again in Europe, as is a snap of very cold weather that seems to have caught some with their pants down.
The last 2 weekends should have seen the first two matches completed between all teams from the six competing nations: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. It didn't quite happen this way because the match that was to have been held in Paris on Saturday evening was cancelled at the last minute when the refereee deemed the pitch at the supposedly modern Stade de France to be unplayable because it was frozen in patches. The game was between France and Ireland.
Since then, the French have been playing their usual game of passing the ball very fast, as if it were a hot potato, to determine who is reponsible for this fiasco. One should bear in mind that the event involved aboit 79,000 spectators having paid good money to see a game (many coming from far away) which was cancelled at the last second despite the pitch having been covered all week under, apparently, heated covers.
A derisory last minute attempt to thaw the pitch in Paris. Seems to me like using an iron on a Christo wrap of Central Park!
Everybody knew that the weather was cold, and indeed had been for almost 2 weeks. Other games took place during the weekend, and the Stade de France is supposedly a modern stadium. Yet it is clearly ill-equipped, and one might add that the decision to play a key game at 9pm in Febuary in a stadium with no roof was not perhaps the most sensible choice initially.
Philippe Saint André, or PSA for short, the new French trainer
Now what about the games that have actually been played? It is interesting to note that 3 of the 6 teams involved have new trainers who have just taken over: England, France and Italy. Four teams have now played 2 matches (out of 5) each so far, so let's look at them first.
Leigh Halfpenny, the Welsh fullback, scoring one of his two tries against Scotland on Sunday. He also kicked a lot of goals.
England and Wales have won both their games. Wales just beat Ireland in Dublin and more convincingly beat Scotland at home. Both games were superb and have confirmed the considerable talents and promise of the current Welsh team, as revealed during the recent World Cup.
England were lucky to win both their games, each played away. Curiously they won each game due to a charge-down try made by their fly-half, Charly Hodgson, and in each case against the course of the game. Italy scored 2 tries against them and only lost this weekend's game in Rome because they do not have a goal-kicker. They lack a bit of depth in terms of replacement players but they have never been closer to winning against the other European nations as the narrowing score sheets show. Remember that they just beat France in Rome last year.
Charly Hodgson congratulated by Owen Farrell
a battle in the snow in Rome: the English team spent more time defending than attacking
the Italian winger, Venditti, breaks through for the first try
Sergio Parisse, the Italian captain and the best player on the field, tackled
Scotland were unlucky to lose to England at home, but were more clearly dominated by Wales. They are good to watch as their game is one of constant movement, but I have to say that their huge numbers of passes sometimes lack direction and they rarely manage to break through defenses.
We shall now have to wait for another couple of games to see who looks likely to win this year's tournament. I would pick Wales as my favourite, with France second. The game between these two should be a key match and a kind of revenge for the Welsh after the closely fought semi-final they lost to France during the World Cup. England lack experience, with a lot of young and promising players. If they win, it will be a considerable surprise, but at least they are building for the future and are not giving away masses of silly penalities all the time like they did during the World Cup.
Goodness knows when the France vs Ireland game will be rescheduled!