Brighter and braver.

At least there was a little spite: we need that.  Glenda may have accused England of being ‘too lacksadaisical’ – rightly – after 15 minutes but there had already been some sense that, yaknow, this was England v Scotland.  There was more panic than savagery but it felt relatively spicyRelatively.

Scotland started brighter and braver.  My guess is that this was partly because Strachan’s simply entered shit-or-bust mode – his attacking line-up being more about his own mania than genuine consideration of English defensive weakness.  The Pinks (say what?!?) were nevertheless appropriately pumped… and swift… and (almost) incisive.

England, though, looked weak in defence.  Stones again tried hard to stroll but merely gave his colleagues either palpitations, or shocking passes, during an early period of Scots dominance.  For someone so brilliant, he was bloody awful – but he did recover at least some of that Coolly Ambling Geezer thing.

The single moment of quality in a first half largely characterised by clumsiness, abstractedness and weirdly open spaces in central midfield was a stunning goal by Sturridge.  Sturridge who had looked likely to disappear in the frenetic mediocrity all around.

The Liverpool man seems not to be one either for The Battle or the kind of Route One (Aerial) Scene this fixture seemed to be building – or un-building towards. But when England finally shifted the ball with purpose wide to the right then in, he stooped to flash a thrilling header home.

Neither Sturridge nor Rooney made a single other contribution of any significance in the half:  Sterling was mixed and wasteful but he was present in a way most were not.  Could just be me but the sight of Rose throwing himself to the floor in the opposition box late in that first period summed up something unsatisfactory about the general fare.  It was competitive but often almost shockingly amorphous.  Other than that gem – the goal.

After the break Scotland ran rings around England before being cruelly stung by Lallana’s flicked header.  Brown, Snodgrass, Griffiths and the willing but limited Fletcher – I say that principally in relation to his almost complete lack of goal threat, which again was notable tonight – were bypassing or bustling around England… but to no effect.  There were periods (early in both halves) where, had Scotland scored, the evening could really have turned traumatic for Mr Southgate.  England really could have got beat tonight.

Miraculously, the Auld Enemy failed to convert half a dozen clear cut chances.  Most of these were more about lack of awareness than misplaced shooting boots.  The lurid pink shirts seemed mysteriously elusive when colleagues broke into Hart’s danger zone: incredibly, almost, nobody played anybody in.  Strachan must have tempted to bring himself on in search of a composed final pass.

When England went 2-up, they probably deserved to be 2-1 down.  When Cahill (who like his central partner Stones had been everything from scarily bad to inconsistent) notched the third with a simple header, the game was up, smothered – along with natural justice.  England had been powerfully unconvincing in defence, strangely dysfunctional, sometimes absent in midfield and sporadically deadly up top. All of Stones, Cahill, Henderson, Dier, Rooney, Sterling and Sturridge plainly underachieved, yet the scoreboard read 3-0.

Henderson and Dier are limited and one-paced players with the limited remit of the deep-lying midfielder to protect them.  Yet too often the porous centre of the England defence was exposed, suggesting they either have inadequate noses for danger or, perhaps, too many instructions jangling round their craniums.  Surely their prime motive as soon as the ball is lost should be to deny space?  Keep it simple, keep your shape?

Rooney was again ineffective for the most part.  This may have been because (for me) Sturridge makes too few darting or threatening runs, shows too infrequently, particularly when games are tight and physical.  (He wins relatively few high balls too, incidentally – again reducing the possibility for drama/momentum/sudden goal threat.)  If nothing’s happening in front of you, you (as a midfielder) tend to pass without meaning or penetration – sideways.

This does not entirely account for Rooney or Henderson or Dier’s ordinariness tonight.  They need surely to mix the tempo and commit to runs, to add value to the possession they inevitably have?  Lallana did this stuff better – but then again he can sprint, and seems to like to sprint forward into space to receive or invite the pass.

A note on Sterling.  He was almost embarrassingly, distractedly, greedily, boyishly poor in the second half.  So poor words must be said.  It might be that he is something of a vulnerable soul, so Southgate or his successor might need to exercise some skill and sensitivity when dealing with this talented young man.  Either that or tell him to pass the fucking thing.

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Staggering.

Impressions. Of a gallivanting, glorious final day, sweeping away fears of a ‘ludicrous advantage for England’, or a ‘recipe for corruption’. Staggered kick-offs and staggering entertainment. Wave upon wave of wondrous, anarchic sport – emphatically combative but almost perfectly fair in both complexion and in spirit. Liberated and liberating in a toss-your-hair-from-the-sports-car-of-your-dreams kindofaway.

Six Nations Rugby is entitled to feel a wee bit smug; maaan, has it delivered. Under the raging bull-charge and the murderous tick tock of receding or encroaching targets, the players showed remarkable – and surely marketable? – and generously honest endeavour. So generous that a) the games were ecstatically expressive of that kind of running rugby we feared we may have lost b) gert big holes were left around the park for the opposition to gleefully run into. C) We never knew what the hell or who the hell might win the thing.

First Wales had to do it all, then Ireland then England. And make no mistake, on a day when 221 points were scored in the three matches, they all did it all. It was magnificently slapstick – only real – with nails bitten and nerves frayed and hearts broken and mended and palpitating and soaring and WAAOORRRRRA. It was too much christmas puddin’ wi’ that brandy butter, it was.

To even start to record the detail …we all may need a sit down and a drink. As we do so, let’s consider this; that given the import of the games and the utterly bone-crunching level of collisions, maybe we really should pause to appreciate the quality of labour undertaken. By the players. For there to be almost no cynicism or cheating or abuse of officials in these precious hours was remarkable. (I recall a sly trip from Haskell and a contentious launch from Lawes leading to proverbial handbags. Tellingly, when Haskell was rightly yellowed he jogged obediently off without a word. Other than that – nothing. Nothing other than sportsmanship during extreme combat of an impeccable standing. Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger – were you watching?)

Italy-Wales started it. By going from superbly competitive (yes, honest!) to absurdly but surely exhilaratingly one-sided within twenty minutes either side of the half. George North went from Disappointment Revisited to Giant Sex-bomb. Biggar and Webb went from Championship winning half-backs (with ten minutes to go) to peeking through their fingers from the bench as things just dipped away.

Why Gatland and co gave them the hoik when they had (over time) so brilliantly dismantled the opposition may be debated in the proverbial Valleys for generations to come. (It struck me as one of the finer examples of ‘overthinking’ from a management mob in recent memory. Given how fluent and commanding they were – and considering there was no requirement to save them for subsequent challenges – why not let them see it out and rack up the inevitable 70 points?) Instead, changes are made, Davies drops a pass when clear, and they concede a try.

Yes I know the maths may not point to a Wales championship win anyway… but the sums may have been significantly different should the Welsh A-team half-backs have remained. That Gatland is vindicated may seem unarguable; however I do at least point out that Wales were better and more successful here with two Williams’s on the field and an instinct for free-form rugby unleashed. Gatlandball – specifically the Roberts and up-the-jumper caricature – will not be enough for the later stages of the Rugby World Cup. Wales may be back (again) but there must be more again.

Italy are meanwhile marooned; or treading water unconvincingly. Their disappearance from this contest was maybe the most predictable thing to happen all day.

Apart from the Irish win in Edinburgh. What’s to say there, except that Scotland need a slap? They were simply dismissed… too comfortably. Even accepting their poor all-round level, this felt close to unacceptable and must have hurt their backroom staff and their long-suffering fans. At home, having shown some attacking form – or threatened to – they simply should have done more.

I had Ireland down as comfortable winners – meaning 12 -15 points – but as a neutral who really rates them and genuinely enjoyed O’Connell’s deserved triumphant moment early on, I felt the drama overall had been served inadequately via the Scots capitulation. 30 points is too much. I accept that the void where a competitive player pool might be is unanswerably relevant here but hoped for more – more dog – from those assembled under the thistle.

The Irish have been great, mind. They have the best coach and they are, for me, in every way marginally ahead of the English and the Welsh. More fiery and consistent than England, more deadly and angular and pacier, actually, than Wales. They throw a mighty green blanket across the park in defence and kick-chase relentlessly. And on that Sexton-centricity I wrote about previously I concede that the fear or the ‘fact’ that Sexton may be irreplaceable to them could have been said of almost any side in history with a stand-out stand-off. (Think England/Wilkinson, perhaps?) You can’t clone the feller, so crack on! If he’s out then look to Bowe and Henshaw and Kearney on the charge, after somebody else’s Garry Owen. The pattern is there. The players are there.

In fact there’s much more to Ireland than that roaring up the pitch and leaping to catch. They have a real efficiency and experience. They will keep the ball for an age and wear you down. They will stand toe-to-toe or they will scorch round your flanks. Or break you down just where you think you’re inviolable. The world knows about O’Brien and Heaslip and O’Connell and now O’Mahony but do they know about Henshaw and Payne? This a strong, well-rounded unit and one that really may challenge for the yet more substantive trophy later in the year.

England were weirdly patchy. They were almost embarrassingly porous – conceding five tries(!) – but also devastatingly ambitious. It was, as so many have noted, like sevens. Ben Youngs was an utter menace throughout and Joseph and Nowell enjoyed a rare opportunity to go wild in the jungle (absolutely free-style.) Twickers sounded like it knew something extraordinary was happening. There were so many simultaneous heady possibilities that it was unclear whether Eddie Butler, Brian Moore and Sonia Wotsit were actually playing. Certainly I think Sexton and O’Connell and Bowe still were. And North and Halfpenny and Barry John and Slattery and Walter Spanghero.

After all the psychotic flux of it, the rampage and the flood of emotion, the fact is Ireland rightly won this tournament, closely followed by England, then by Wales. The table, remarkably makes absolute sense, despite the marvellous nonsense in Rome, at Murrayfield, at Twickers. The table says there wasn’t much in it but man oh man, there was.
Foolishly, at the end, I congratulated EVERYONE on twitter – because it felt like we’d all won – or they all had. It was magic… and it was rugby… and something was shared.

Staggering.

Impressions. Of a gallivanting, glorious final day, sweeping away fears of a ‘ludicrous advantage for England’, or a ‘recipe for corruption’. Staggered kick-offs and staggering entertainment. Wave upon wave of wondrous, anarchic sport – emphatically combative but almost perfectly fair in both complexion and in spirit. Liberated and liberating in a toss-your-hair-from-the-sports-car-of-your-dreams kindofaway.

Six Nations Rugby is entitled to feel a wee bit smug; maaan, has it delivered. Under the raging bull-charge and the murderous tick tock of receding or encroaching targets, the players showed remarkable – and surely marketable? – and generously honest endeavour. So generous that a) the games were ecstatically expressive of that kind of running rugby we feared we may have lost b) gert big holes were left around the park for the opposition to gleefully run into. C) We never knew what the hell or who the hell might win the thing.

First Wales had to do it all, then Ireland then England. And make no mistake, on a day when 221 points were scored in the three matches, they all did it all. It was magnificently slapstick – only real – with nails bitten and nerves frayed and hearts broken and mended and palpitating and soaring and WAAOORRRRRA. It was too much christmas puddin’ wi’ that brandy butter, it was.

To even start to record the detail …we all may need a sit down and a drink. As we do so, let’s consider this; that given the import of the games and the utterly bone-crunching level of collisions, maybe we really should pause to appreciate the quality of labour undertaken. By the players. For there to be almost no cynicism or cheating or abuse of officials in these precious hours was remarkable. (I recall a sly trip from Haskell and a contentious launch from Lawes leading to proverbial handbags. Tellingly, when Haskell was rightly yellowed he jogged obediently off without a word. Other than that – nothing. Nothing other than sportsmanship during extreme combat of an impeccable standing. Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger – were you watching?)

Italy-Wales started it. By going from superbly competitive (yes, honest!) to absurdly but surely exhilaratingly one-sided within twenty minutes either side of the half. George North went from Disappointment Revisited to Giant Sex-bomb. Biggar and Webb went from Championship winning half-backs (with ten minutes to go) to peeking through their fingers from the bench as things just dipped away.

Why Gatland and co gave them the hoik when they had (over time) so brilliantly dismantled the opposition may be debated in the proverbial Valleys for generations to come. (It struck me as one of the finer examples of ‘overthinking’ from a management mob in recent memory. Given how fluent and commanding they were – and considering there was no requirement to save them for subsequent challenges – why not let them see it out and rack up the inevitable 70 points?) Instead, changes are made, Davies drops a pass when clear, and they concede a try.

Yes I know the maths may not point to a Wales championship win anyway… but the sums may have been significantly different should the Welsh A-team half-backs have remained. That Gatland is vindicated may seem unarguable; however I do at least point out that Wales were better and more successful here with two Williams’s on the field and an instinct for free-form rugby unleashed. Gatlandball – specifically the Roberts and up-the-jumper caricature – will not be enough for the later stages of the Rugby World Cup. Wales may be back (again) but there must be more again.

Italy are meanwhile marooned; or treading water unconvincingly. Their disappearance from this contest was maybe the most predictable thing to happen all day.

Apart from the Irish win in Edinburgh. What’s to say there, except that Scotland need a slap? They were simply dismissed… too comfortably. Even accepting their poor all-round level, this felt close to unacceptable and must have hurt their backroom staff and their long-suffering fans. At home, having shown some attacking form – or threatened to – they simply should have done more.

I had Ireland down as comfortable winners – meaning 12 -15 points – but as a neutral who really rates them and genuinely enjoyed O’Connell’s deserved triumphant moment early on, I felt the drama overall had been served inadequately via the Scots capitulation. 30 points is too much. I accept that the void where a competitive player pool might be is unanswerably relevant here but hoped for more – more dog – from those assembled under the thistle.

The Irish have been great, mind. They have the best coach and they are, for me, in every way marginally ahead of the English and the Welsh. More fiery and consistent than England, more deadly and angular and pacier, actually, than Wales. They throw a mighty green blanket across the park in defence and kick-chase relentlessly. And on that Sexton-centricity I wrote about previously I concede that the fear or the ‘fact’ that Sexton may be irreplaceable to them could have been said of almost any side in history with a stand-out stand-off. (Think England/Wilkinson, perhaps?) You can’t clone the feller, so crack on! If he’s out then look to Bowe and Henshaw and Kearney on the charge, after somebody else’s Garry Owen. The pattern is there. The players are there.

In fact there’s much more to Ireland than that roaring up the pitch and leaping to catch. They have a real efficiency and experience. They will keep the ball for an age and wear you down. They will stand toe-to-toe or they will scorch round your flanks. Or break you down just where you think you’re inviolable. The world knows about O’Brien and Heaslip and O’Connell and now O’Mahony but do they know about Henshaw and Payne? This a strong, well-rounded unit and one that really may challenge for the yet more substantive trophy later in the year.

England were weirdly patchy. They were almost embarrassingly porous – conceding five tries(!) – but also devastatingly ambitious. It was, as so many have noted, like sevens. Ben Youngs was an utter menace throughout and Joseph and Nowell enjoyed a rare opportunity to go wild in the jungle (absolutely free-style.) Twickers sounded like it knew something extraordinary was happening. There were so many simultaneous heady possibilities that it was unclear whether Eddie Butler, Brian Moore and Sonia Wotsit were actually playing. Certainly I think Sexton and O’Connell and Bowe still were. And North and Halfpenny and Barry John and Slattery and Walter Spanghero.

After all the psychotic flux of it, the rampage and the flood of emotion, the fact is Ireland rightly won this tournament, closely followed by England, then by Wales. The table, remarkably makes absolute sense, despite the marvellous nonsense in Rome, at Murrayfield, at Twickers. The table says there wasn’t much in it but man oh man, there was.
Foolishly, at the end, I congratulated EVERYONE on twitter – because it felt like we’d all won – or they all had. It was magic… and it was rugby… and something was shared.

Ireland loves Gatland – as Capello!

Dublin. Where Wales were dumbfounded – as indeed were most of us – by the utter control exerted by the Irish. Indeed so shocked were the dragons management in my view that they forgot themselves, much as the gobsmacked-in-a-very-bad-way Capello had done for England in a recent (footie) World Cup. They forgot they had to do something – send on subs. (Hook/Tipuric!) This had nothing whatsoever to do with #BODgate… and everything to do with freezing whilst getting simply battered.

So as I write, all manner of hostelry in the fair city, from the corporate schmoozer-zones to the dodgiest of boozers must surely be taking an almighty hammering, as elated locals and bemused visitors take stock. I imagine Martyn Williams was slumping back disappointed into a comfy chair and reaching for a consoling pint as he tweeted, but the former back-row maestro summed things up neatly enough when he dinked out the following;

Didn’t see that coming. Hats off to the Irish. Totally dominant.

Agreed; in every respect. But how? Yes we’re aware of this suggestion that Wales may have just the one way of playing and are therefore susceptible to being ‘found out’ (though I’ve never really accepted this.) Yes there was a whole lot of emotion, a whole lot riding on this one, with most of it pointing to positive inflammation of Schmidt’s Green Army. And yes Ireland got off to a flying start last week. But surely a tight and tense and fulsomely impassioned affair would ensue? Full of fire and endless demonstrations from all sides of the phenomenon rugbyfolks simply call ‘dog’? But no – well certainly not from the Welsh – only the Irish howled. Wales were numbed, muzzled and blunted in everything they did, from almost the first moment to the desperate last.

Perhaps it’s ungenerous to put it this way – as though denying the Irish some rewarding chunk of their triumph. However I do so because it strikes me that the utter absence of Wales from this match was more remarkable than anything. From the reds there was no penetration, no threat, barely any phases, in truth, despite the gallumping nature of their backs. But worse, perhaps, there was no sense that any of these things were likely. The 26-3 score-line in no way flattered the home side.

Ireland meanwhile were superbly organised and composed. Sexton was close to immaculate with his control, through tactical hoofing and through his mixture; he absolutely built the framework for his side and this, consistently, together with outstanding blanket defence eased – and I do mean eased – his side to a straightforward win.

In the first half Trimble was darting bravely and covering or slamming into contacts, O’Driscoll was steady and safe rather than hugely notable but around the breakdown O’Mahony in particular was a giant. Wales panicked and infringed and hurried things or lost the ball before they could execute their own hurrying. With O’Connell predictably battering and Irish hands on the ball almost obscenely quickly, Welsh possession never felt secured. Ireland’s did. Without blasting open the Welsh lines they emphatically held their own. Typically Sexton put them somewhere that felt good and then they asked those questions of the Welsh attack. Sharpish enquiries that Priestland never looked able to respond to.

Two final things. Gatland’s back row is very very good at snaffling athletically and with purpose around the breakdown. Today, the dominance of the Irish in this area – Warburton’s specialist subject – was both most striking and decisive. With barely believable constancy that much-vaunted back row of Wales was marmalised. Penalties came and were largely gratefully accepted by Sexton.

Secondly, there was the lack of response from Wales. Priestland is not either brilliant or raw gutsy enough to single-handedly gather in a real game. Phillips is looking close to his natural end. Combine this with the failure of Gatland and his backroom staff to act – by (probably) sending Hook and Tipuric on at the 50 minute mark – and well… you might find yourself in the same place as Capello. Somewhere faintly embarrassing.

In Edinburgh England strolled to a win against a Scotland side barely deserving, on this form, of a #6nations berth. Though the pitch and the weather were awful – both conspiring to drastically reduce the odds on a free-flowing display from the visitors – a rout seemed on after about five minutes. Vunipola B again looked ridiculously comfortable as he legged it unopposed through the mud, sharing the egg casually pre-tackle. Burrell again emphasised the power and explosiveness of his running – scoring a fine try in the process. Even the previously disappointing Twelvetrees broke confidently and played with oxygenating freedom. Farrell kicked poorly but still ran the game with something of a smirk.

Lancaster will on the one hand be delighted at a victory without conceding a point and on the other be exasperated his team somehow conspired to avoid the seven or eight tries that were surely available. But England do look like they have a certain invention about them now, what with Brown and May and Burrell all looking un-Englishly, ‘naturally’, expansively brisk.

Scotland though, are gone. Simply not competing at the same level. Their game against Italy seems their only hope of validation, never mind meaningful points on the board. Too early in this Calcutta Cup Laidlaw had missed two kickable penalties and you knew Scotland simply could not afford that waste. The problems seem frighteningly universal, leaving Scott Johnson an unenviable task; it seems the best he can hope for is to sit out the storm and try to keep chins up. Whether he has made this more difficult through the summary dispatch of former skipper Kelly Brown, who knows? If there are egos at work in his camp as well as issues with available talent, the man’s in awful … deep… shite.

On a lighter note Brian Moore’s continuing support of a certain shall-we-say de-spiritualized *religious icon continues apace. I would have bought him a pint – and necked one – if he’d have slotted the phrase ‘Is this a dugout which I see before me’ into commentary. Aah well, time yet.

* For the uninitiated – possibly literally – @WelshDalaiLama has a drinking game via twitter.  The boy Mooro (roped in) has been gratuitously quoting Shakespeare to draw those who indulge into downing their poison.

Et vives?

The French must be bawling. Slumped on the fields of Alsace ou Normande, bitterly weeping out their heartbreak. Gawping in the cafe-bars of Biarritz, over the affaire discombobulatingly cruelle. Who could have foreseen it; the day when the English – Les Anglais! – usurped them as the great enigma of 6 Nations rugby? When the lily-whites, the ros-bifs actually actually appeared more difficult to read than the magnificently, enigmatically opaque Bleus. When England from 9 to 15 were that ludicrously French phenomenon, the Unlikely Lads. Or worse- the Unknowably Untested Lads. Or the Godknows What Will Happen Lads. But such is the current, anti-intuitive scenario.

France, of course are still reassuringly in pieces. Some bits toweringly, even tempestuously brilliant – Harinoduquy? Dusautoir? Whilst others others skulk and feint too easily in the traditional allegedly gallic manner. They are, therefore yet again likely to be consistently inconsistent, despite the swapping of guard following Lievremont’s departure preceding a comparative calming of the perception of changes perpetuelles. (If my taking of diabolical liberties with the French language offends, please send your complaints to P Idgin, Two Veg Row, Hampton le Cobblers, Dorset.)

For the arrival of Philippe Saint Andre – and his selection of a 30 hommes squad – seems to have been relatively quietly appreciated and indeed commented upon in rugbygossville. Notable picks are Beauxis, the Toulouse pivot and the returning Poitrenaud and Nyanga. Elsewhere the Yachvilis and Parras and Vincent Clercs give the thing a spookily familiar, if not (ever?) trusty look.

But when this is a side that recently featured in the World Cup Final, why wouldn’t it look familiar? What’s to be gained by too much faffing, now the Fiddle-Meister-in-Chief Lievremont has disparu? The fact that his charges were possibly the most unlikely and almost unbelievably ungraceful (and therefore unpopular) French side in memory that somehow woke up to find themselves in a WCF is interesting rather than seminal. They were actually shambolically crap; but they almost made it. Like France would. Now they must add structure and consistency to the engagingly, maddeningly French stuff. So there won’t be too many changes; unless Saint Andre can fashion some conviction and some unity; in which case they might win the thing at a canter.

Scotland have surely no chance of winning the tournament. Certainly not with just the two home games – England and France? Their contribution to and competitive streak in the tournament is, to their credit, gathering but the retirement of Paterson leaves them further adrift in the putting points on the board stakes, does it not? For all the recent highs – the heartening resurgence vol. XXlV – it just appears that that minor detail (execution from the backs) eludes them. I do not discount the achievements of either Edinburgh – sitting pretty ‘midst the Heineken Cup Quarters elite – or Glasgee – sitting pretty pretty in the pro12 – but who amongst the back division is actually going to score?

Ross Ford is a mighty and a proud wee leader of men I’ve no doubt, and the famed back row in particular may yet marmalise (in particular) the soft centre of their first, momentarily white-suited opponents. But the quality they have at 9 and 10 is rarely matched outside. Consequently the Cussiter/Blair/Parks axis either has to really make something very new happen, or energise the loose forwards towards more than the occasional or moral victory.

Andy Robinson – a man treated poorly I suspect by both players and officials at Twickers – knows all this and is no doubt icily smouldering for a win against the English first up. That’s certainly do-able. Given the genuine all-court progress Robinson has led, plus the inevitable key Mel Gibsonian roar of the sporran-touting masses, Messrs Hodgson/Farrell and co might be forgiven for pooping their Calvin Klein’s at the prospect. The Scots may not need any backs to win that one; which may be just as well. Paterson is scheduled to take a fond adieu in one of those cringingly orchestrated ‘farewells’ that pro sport does these days; before kick-off; against the English. He, like us, just won’t know which way that one will go.

The Italians, under new coach Jacques Brunel mirror some of Scotland’s shortcomings, only maybe in a hall-of-mirrors kindofaway. They are at times, more weirdly inadequate, especially as they approach the opposition 22. If they ever do. Cruel? Perhaps. But the Azurri, who battle bravely and with some efficiency at scrum and at breakdown – where the likes of Castrogioavanni and Parisse and to a lesser extent Bergamasco deny smug notions that they are there to make up the numbers – are… short of numbers. Numbers 10 to 15 typically. And maybe 4, 5, 6. Ish. Consequently, the feeling and the likelihood remains that they can’t quite compete. Not in more than one or two games. Not really.

There have been times when those of us who love the game and rate the Italian zest for it have chorused endlessly on the subject of kickers. The lack of which has been absolutely key to preventing the Roman hordes from further, more rewarding pillage. (Remember they did beat the French in Rome last time out.) The chronic shortage of place-kickers in particular has de-empired them before the legions have been dispatched. I have myself, on many occasions, volunteered to step up at time of need, having struck successfully for Italia on many occasions – I kid you not – in the Thunder Bay and District Midwinter Soccer League. (‘Nother story- let’s leave it.) I wouldn’t, believe me, have missed. Not like that.

Now, again, the question may be How To Stay In Touch with those who are just that bit better, that bit more likely to ‘execute’. Whilst watching another convincing flurry from scrum to about halfway, I, for one, will be wishing our Italian brothers well.