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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Saturday February 07 2009

Thank goodness for the Six Nations, but oh dear, what a frightful opener.  England very bad, Italy far worse.  It’s now the second half, and Geraghty has just come on as a sub for England and he can play, as he proved against France ... last year was it?  Somebody needs to.  England are 4-0 up on the try front, but all of the tries have been gifted to them by Italy.  It’s just a matter of who is worst.  I’ve never seen a worse Six Nations game since the days when they used to play in mud and crank out scores like 3-3.  That was in the days of black-and-white only telly.  But if those games had been in colour, they would still have been grey.  This one is in colour but is also grey.

There are two Armitage brothers playing for England.  The cameramen have been primed to do shots of their mother, who is ethnic, just as the equally photogenic Mrs Underwood was.  But so far, frankly, there has been nothing for Mrs Armitage to get excited about, from her boys or from any of the others.

“Why are they kicking all this ball?”, asks commentator Brian Moore, referring to the habit of all backs these days of just bonking it up the field, so that the other backs can bonk it back again as in a boring clay court tennis match.  Perhaps because Martin Johnson wants to bore us all to death?  I worry about Johnson.  On the face of it, he’s the kind of clogger who scales up to coaching well.  But thinking about it before the game, I realised that he used to be what they call a “natural leader”, and the trouble with people who are “natural” at things is that they don’t have to think about them, and hence don’t know how they did it, and hence how to teach it when deprived of their own natural example on the pitch (which is where and when it matters), as coaches are.  Clive Woodward, in contrast, seemed the natural threequarter par excellence, all grace and beauty and twinkly-toed toes, and lack of brain cells to rub together.  But actually Woodward spent his entire time as an England player inwardly rebelling against the mediocrity of the leadership and general England set-up that he had to suffer.  All the time he was playing for England, he was thinking thinking thinking about how much better things could be.  And not only did Woodward then win one World Cup; he damn near won another after he’d left, through the after-effect of all his cunning and relentless psychologising.  It was his veterans, all those non-playing MBEs from the previous campaign, who turned things around for England in the last World Cup and kept England within a fluke try at the very end of actually winning the thing, having looked useless early on.  Now the Woodward after-echo is over, and all there is is the uselessness.  And Johnson, wondering how the hell to impose what used to come naturally to him when he was a player.  You’ve got to impose a pattern.  You’ve got to seize the game by the scruff of the neck.  You have to cut out the errors.  Yeah, we know, boss.  But how?

“Italy are the better team at the moment”, one of the commentators has just said.  Nonsense, the game is over.  Both teams are rubbish, and England are 29-6 up. None of the other teams will have seen anything to scare them.  The only good news is that Italy are famously better at stopping the other fellows than they are at doing anything themselves, and against better sides, England may themselves play better.  Heaven help them if they don’t.

Italy have just scored a try, now it’s too late.  So the commentators had a point, I guess.  And now England look like they might have too, and maybe they have.  The refs are doing their usual Public Inquiry routine, and yes it’s a try.  Hoo bloody ray.  That has got to be the worst performance ever by a team winning 34-11, with (I assume) the conversion from the touchline now about to be missed.  I sit corrected: 36-11.

Dump the Armitages.  They were a waste of space.

LATER: Gulp.  Looks like the Ashes next summer could be a fight over the leftovers after they’ve burnt a wooden spoon.

Being half-French half-English and with my French relatives more interested in playing rugby, and with the French Lyçée rugby team being largely French (the English played in the soccer team), are all excuses for me to have supported France in the old Five Nations on black and white television, but that’s not the whole story.

Consider the stars of the era. England’s was Dusty Hare. France’s was Serge Blanco. I suppose Hare’s mother might have been willing to pay more to see her son play rugby, but I doubt if anyone else did.

This weekend, so far, has been like a 1970s five nations affair. France lost in Dublin, to a good Irish side in an entertaining game, England won with a limited game.

The functional IQ of the England team, Harry Ellis aside, seems to have been smaller than the numbers on their shirts. The poor performance of the makeshift number 9 for Italy, was the difference between the two sides.

One last point, the new rule changes seem to have encouraged quick throw ins because the catch-and-drive is no longer reliable with the defence’s new right to collapse a maul (silly me, I thought it was banned previously for being dangerous!).

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 07 February 2009

You mentioned Geraghty. I was impressed with him against France before the 2007 world cup when he had that performance you mentioned. I believe he was injured last season, but he has been dropped for no clear reason at times (I seem to recall he failed to make the World Cup squad, IIRC).

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 07 February 2009

The Welsh/Scotland game on Sunday was in a different class to the English/Italy one. The Ireland game was excellent with lots of movement, invention and good scrumming, passing and use of space.

The Italian guy who was a disaster at scrum half I think must have wanted to be sucked into the hole in the ground. But at this level, if you are not up to playing in a position, don’t play it. He should have told his coach that he was not up for the role.

As for the cricket, the least said, the better.

Posted by Tom Burroughes on 09 February 2009
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