Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, rounds up the first weekend of the Six Nations, expects it all to kick off before round two and warns of the latest New Zealand plan for world domination.
One week into the Six Nations and already there are a load of crystal balls being loaded into car boots to get transported down the local tip.
If any of our readers play in a prediction league in their boozer and have got three out of three results, including winning margins, correct then they can book a holiday to Barbados now. Rum punches all round if you have, but you won’t.
Some would have got the right winners but no-one predicted a 27-point romp for Wales, against Scotland, or a two-point burglary for Ireland in Paris. England’s 46-15 win in Rome did not need much pin-stickers’ luck to predict but if you are down the pub bragging that you got the points in all three right you are a liar, liar and your pants are on fire.
The good news is you don’t need a crystal ball or a set of tarot cards to know what is coming this week. And it is going to be brilliant as Wales head to Twickenham, Italy to Dublin and France to Murrayfield – and the build up just might be better.
Wales boss Warren Gatland and England head honcho Eddie Jones can start another round of verbal grenade tennis – and we predict the pin will be pulled on the first English explosive very early in the week.
The Welsh have already had a crack.
But first a recap of this weekend’s action, or non-action as most of it was at Stade de France. It showed the good, the very bad, the extremely ugly and the ridiculously brilliant of the game.
RugbySpy was in Cardiff on Saturday to watch the Scottish resurgence being knocked back as Wales hosed home 34-7 and Gatland’s mob were unlucky not to get something north of 50. And that is without Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, George North, Liam Williams and the rest.
Scotland were pitiful and proved that you don’t become a good team just by having a decent few minutes against the All Blacks when they are knackered in a November Test.
Wales were very good and you wouldn’t fancy being Gatland when he picks his team to face England on Saturday if a few of those gun players suddenly did a Lazarus impression and got fit lively. It teed up round two in TW1 very nicely thank you.
Before we headed back to London, via a pit-stop for some five-star nosh at the Tredegar Arms in Newport, we watched Ireland’s game against France in Paris.
And what a load of dross it was too. France were terrible but could have won it, Ireland were worse and did win it. All that separated the two sides from pub teams the world over was one passage of play.
Johnny Sexton’s mastery of the last 41 phases, and his match-winning drop goal which nicked the game for Joe Schmidt’s crew, showed he has cojones bigger than Buster Gonad the character from Viz.
And his drop goal was just the half of it with the cross kick to Keith Earls earlier on in the move, and the wing’s take, showing he has more bottle than the recycling bin outside RugbySpy Towers.
They nicked the headlines and the rest of the week will be taken up with the inquiry into the two dodgy-looking Head Injury Assessments that were given to the French.
We have been over this argument before and Nigel Owens did exactly the right thing just as English ref Wayne Barnes did last year when confronted with a similar situation. In the same stadium and with the same home team involved.
Owens could do nothing else when he was told that fly-half Matthieu Jalibert and replacement scrum-half Antoine Dupont needed HIAs. He was told that by an independent doctor and although it looked like both of them had injuries elsewhere who is Owens to argue? Unless he wants to end up in court.
The medic who was ordering the HIA was not part of the French team, unlike the bloke last year, but was an official independent appointment. He was………errrr French……..
We’ll leave that one to the blazers.
The results of the inquiry into last year’s 100-minute match which Barnes officiated so brilliantly in March 2017 came out in June. They amounted to an admission that France had bent the laws and gave them a slap on the wrist.
It was a disgraceful disbandment of responsibility by the blazers and the timing of the release was also disgraceful as the rugby world’s attention was on the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
It was a good day to bury bad news and all that and we will probably get the outcome of this little lot sometime in August.
We will get the outcome of the England and Wales ding-dong a bit sooner than that – just before 7pm on Saturday to be exact.
After England’s opening win in the Eternal City, Jones, the eternal wind-up merchant, refused to get drawn into a war of words with Gatland. Which was disappointing for the hack pack but it is only a matter of time.
The Welsh captain, and of the great modern locks Alun Wyn Jones, had got the ball rolling on Saturday evening at the Principality Stadium. Wales had just blown a hole in Scotland’s reputation as one of ‘Europe’s darlings’ as Jones likes to call them and the Welsh Jones looked like he had been in almighty scrap.
But he was ready for another one.
The big man came off a medium-sized run saying that this was ‘just the start’ for Wales, and we all got his meaning.
And Gatland with typical bullishness said that he knew his side were going to win by 20 points when they were training on Friday. He even told his chief executive that we wonder how his predictions are going in his local.
And then he re-iterated what he said to us before the tournament. Gatland teams have beaten England at Twickenham in 2008, 2012 and 2015 and he ain’t scared of going there.
“Since I have been involved we have had some big performances, good results and big victories there so it is not a place we are afraid to go away to,” he told us. “It is a great ground and we will go there with confidence and self belief and hopefully we will get something.”
Then he had a crack at the doom merchants on the west of the Severn who predicted that Wales were a busted flush.
“We have gone from one extreme to another weren’t we? There was no expectation today…. and we were crap,” Gatland said. “There were a lot of ex-Welsh rugby people and stuff saying we were going to lose, so we will go from that to next week and the expectations will be through the roof so we have to deal with that.”
Your serve Eddie, new balls please. Again.
For breath-taking rugby arrogance you have to go some way to beat New Zealand – not the players, but the people who run their game. They think they run rugby all over the planet even though they are not so generous as to spread their wings and play Tests against, or in, nations who can’t give them a decent bung.
The latest example of Kiwi high-horsery comes, as reported by our friends on the New Zealand Herald, with a story saying they are willing to give some of their leading All Blacks a sabbatical in Japan or Europe on the proviso they return for World Cups.
But they have a few conditions.
Dan Carter did this trick with Perpignan back in 2008 but the Kiwis are running scared that some potential, and let’s be honest, mostly second and third tier Test players are being lost to the might of the Euro, the Yen and the good old British Pound Sterling.
Wasps have Hurricanes flanker Brad Shields and Highlanders’ fly-half Lima Sopoaga pitching up at the Ricoh next season. Not tier one Kiwis but bloody good players and they will probably play the house down now they have got shot of their All Black ambitions.
But there is more to this…….
The latest Kiwi ruse is to let players come to Europe or Japan as long as they are going to clubs with, and to quote our friends on the Herald, ‘have sound coaching structures and support systems’. Then they would head back to New Zealand and have a crack at whichever is the next World Cup in their sights.
Interestingly Wayne Smith, ‘the Professor’ of Kiwi rugby is doing some work with Japan’s Kobe Steelers, and Robbie Deans is in charge at the Panasonic Wild Knights. Todd Blackadder is at Bath in the Premiership and Dave Rennie is at Glasgow.
Next season another Kiwi, the current Hurricanes’ gaffer, Chris Boyd will pitch up at Northampton.
Call us conspiracy theorists but you can bet your bottom dollar that some top dollar Kiwis will be heading to Franklin’s Gardens, Scotstoun and the Rec after the next World Cup.
Then they can have a couple of years being coached by more Kiwis before heading back down under ahead of the 2023 shindig.
And that blocks the way for British kids who are scratching around for a gig. And let’s face it, not every All Black who has landed on these shores to play club rugby has been a raging success.
Nick Evans, at Harlequins, was one although he gave up his Test career for that move, but there have been plenty who have coasted for the big money. And now they can coast for a bit then head back to NZ and then kick our butts in 2023. Don’t fall for it.
So all you chief executives, with Kiwi DoRs, beware when they come knocking on the door.