Belfast Telegraph

Six Nations climax just a game of groans for England

By Billy Weir

So, have you stopped laughing yet? Saturday evening was one of hearty guffaws, Sunday full of intermittent snorts, by Monday the occasional snigger and on Tuesday a bit of tittering, while yesterday it was more satisfied smiles and an inner glow that all was well with the world.

This effect will wear off, I know that, but at the end of it all, no matter what divides us in this green and pleasant land, there is one thing that unites us all, regardless of whether you answer Ireland's call or not, in that there is no finer feeling in sport than seeing an English rugby team on the brink of glory being made to think again.

For once the reality matched the hype, those who questioned the wisdom of the Six Nations title being decided by three matches over one Super Saturday left with egg-chasing yolk on their faces after the extraordinary goings-on in Rome and Edinburgh, but nothing compared to what was to happen in London.

"Well, it has been exhausting and exhilarating," began John Inverdale on BBC1.

"If you've been sitting in front of the telly since ten past 12 and you've got barely anything left to give, you've another two and a half hours to go as England play France," he added and was joined by Sir Clive Woodward, Jeremy Guscott and Thomas Castaignede.

"I feel lonely," began petite Thomas, and he wasn't made feel any more welcome when Clive, looking more and more like Herr Flick by the day, delivered the first cliché of the day.

"If France go behind they're not the best team at handling pressure," he said, stopping short of any mention of surrender or monkeys enjoying a wee bit of fromage, but we knew what he was hinting at.

Not just as subtle as Brian Moore, asked for his memories of Le Crunch, or as Inverdale put it, a "game of brutality and brilliance".

"Physical violence mostly and winning," he said, yet again winning no friends and influencing absolutely no one, but after everyone had skated around not mentioning the war, Thomas shot himself in the foot.

"I think 200 years after Waterloo it's time to stand up," and almost on queue a Prince Harry appeared and behind the scenes the director was praying that no one mentioned Agincourt, but don't worry there was plenty of time to cry for Harry, England and Saint George later.

Commentator Eddie Butler's opening gambit was to tell us that fellow Welshman Nigel Owens was referee because, "Steve Walsh, who was slated to do today's final encounter has retired", presumably to spend more time with his reflection.

"Let's not be disrespectful to France, they are formidable opponents and England should respect that," interjected Moore and they promptly proved him wrong by capitulating within seconds.

From then on all hell broke loose, Butler, normally the steady hand on the tiller, losing the run of himself.

"It's a continuation of the scoring madness of the day. Tackles have missed from one of Europe to the other," he said, that was until Courtney Lawes tangled with French fly-half Jules Plisson.

"In slow motion it will look really bad, in real time it was slightly late," Moore explained.

It was so late Marie Antoinette came on to treat him but he got away with it, proving that when you come calling to London for a big clash, if you fight the Lawes, the Lawes wins.

Plisson, surprisingly, missed his next kick at goal, picking the wrong one of the seven he could see, meaning there were only 42 points in the first half, and more madness followed after the break.

Indeed so mad it was that even when France scored to make it 48-35, they gave England seven points too, and such was the confusion that the wee scoreboard at the top of the screen disappeared.

Soon it was all over, despite France making everyone in Ireland sweat just a tad more by deciding to run the ball under their own posts in over-time, but then Owens blew his whistle and up at Murrayfield the party could start.

"There's very little between the top three teams," said Moore trying to put on a brave face. I think you'll find there's six points between them, but let's not fall out.

"Well, the day started off with an extraordinary game, it went to even more extraordinary and we've run out of the hyperbole and adjectives to describe what has just been a remarkable day's rugby," said Inverdale, finding an adjective just in the nick of time.

"We talk about 'what if' in sport, if Italy hadn't scored a try in the last minute, if Stuart Hogg hadn't dropped the ball," he concluded - and if your granny had Gilberts she'd be your granda.

So that's that then, only the World Cup to look forward to. I'd play all the games on one day, it'll make it much more exciting.

Belfast Telegraph

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