It’s Saturday. What’s more, it’s a Six-Nations Saturday! I have my day (nay, weekend!) planned out with pseudo-military precision: I’m going no-where unless it involves the TV, fridge or kettle.
When I was a boy I struggled to get into sport. I mean, why stand around on a cold wet field in shorts and a T-shirt, your feet sinking into soggy mud, chasing a flipping ball about and letting other kids kick you? Why? I saw no reason, no logic in the philosophy of it all. Perhaps no-one spent the time to explain the need, the necessity for me to exercise in this manner. After all, I did attend a state school in the 1970s and I was a boy. Of course I enjoyed football! And if I didn’t, I would damn well perish in the attempt to make me enjoy it!
But two events changed all that: FIFA World Cup ’78 in Argentina and Five Nations ’79.
My dad and elder brother tried to engage me in football and cricket, but I just wasn’t having it. I just didn’t get it… I would just not get it. The cricket was a case in point. My dad took my brother and me to Tring to watch Northhamptonshire play Middlesex in a Sunday League match. All I remember from the day was the souvenir scorecard, the little red ball flying over the crowd once, and watching the backs of the spectators in front of me. I saw nothing of the game! Hence, a lack of interest! Then the said World Cup tournoi and Five Nations changed all that – mainly because they were on TV and I could see. In ’79 I knew very little about rugby, but that didn’t seem to matter. The games, the competition, the atmosphere, conjured magical images to my imagination! I was hooked.
Although life’s eddies have pulled in this direction, or that – to watching football, to foreign employment, to becoming a dad – I have eased myself back to a TV set or screen to watch the sumptuous rugby delivered by the annual event of the Five Nations, then Six Nations Championship.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a couch spud. I would rather go to a game, get into the stadium and watch a match there. But tickets are almost as rare as dragon’s teeth. I’ve never been to Italy or a Five/Six Nations game. Maybe I could kill two birds with one hit there? While I was studying at Keele Uni., me and my Welsh pal, Mike, talked ourselves into travelling from Stoke to Holyhead, and there get a ferry across to Dublin for the Ireland verses Wales game. We almost went… instead we watched it on TV. If only! You never know, I might just do it anyway… one day!
A fortnight ago I did something I haven’t managed in a long while: I watched every game in a round; Wales beating Italy 26-9; England overcoming a defiant France side 23-13 (Saturday); and the Scots coming from behind against the Irish to win 12-8. It was bliss, I can tell you. And I’m planning a repeat this weekend!
And what a feast in store there is! First up at 2.30pm (GMT) is Scotland verses Wales. Both are riding on the back-to-back victories, so confidence will be high in the Red and Blue camps. Scotland will be seeking to add to their triumphs over Italy and Ireland, and secure their best finish to a Championships since 1999 (and the best finish under the Six Nations format). Wales are still in with a shout for the Championship itself, with England in Cardiff for their last last game. However, a victory for Scotland today, and if England beat Italy tomorrow (Sunday), and Wales would have to settle for second place. With that in mind, Neil Jenkins, Wales’ Assistant Coach, stated to the BBC he wanted any win over Scotland (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/21718731). 3-0 would do him. I understand where you’re coming from Mr Jenkins, but I was kind of hoping for a little more entertainment!
Following hard on the heels of that little Celtic crunch, is Ireland verses France. Both teams are surprisingly off the boil in this year’s Championships. For France this is the worst performance since 1999. Both teams lost last weekend after leading for much of their respective games. France outplayed England at Twickenham until changes in key personnel meant a change of course for the game, while Ireland had the run of Scotland but their field goal kicking let them down on the day. At the start of this year’s competition, no-one would have put this game down as a wooden-spoon four-pointer!
On Sunday England entertain Italy at Twickenham in a game everyone expects the home side to dominate. Indeed, recent form and history suggest that. England will make changes to the team that beat France, with Owen Farrell being most notable (injury keeping him out). The weight of history is against Italy, but they are never shy of a good upset! Should England and Wales win their respective games this weekend, here’s another parallel to 1999: England went to Cardiff (aka Wembley, as The Millennium Stadium was being built) needing a win to secure a grand slam. The result? Wales 32, England 31! A game Neil Jenkins might just recall… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Five_Nations_Championship)
Well, not long to go now. Let the fun begin!