THE RUGBY WEEKEND REVIEWED - by Rupert Bates
What a weekend of rugby. As an Englishman I was delighted to see England’s victory over Wales in Cardiff. The only blemish and it was a 30-mile blemish, was the scheduling for the great god television. Yes under lights and a closed Millennium Stadium roof gave it a certain frisson and extraordinary noise levels, but the decision to play on a Friday night was always going to end in traffic gridlock, especially as driving is often the only option, given the appalling train service and not helped by some rip-off hoteliers insisting on two nights money for one. Shameful behaviour. It was a night for lock forwards. Much more of this from Tom Palmer of Stade Francais and England manager Martin Johnson might regret the decision not to pick foreign-based players from after the World Cup. There was not much for Wales to sing about, but their second-row Bradley Davies grows in stature with every game. You cannot help but love England’s two-try wing Chris Ashton, all pump, passion and pace, with a smile on his face. But I knew I was getting old when I moaned about the Northampton man’s flamboyant dive, ball held in the finger tips of one hand for his first try. By all accounts Jonno wasn’t too happy either.
DOMINGO NOT PLACIDO
But the best performance of the opening weekend came from France in a terrific contest against Scotland in Paris. French flair is one of rugby’s great clichés and it is true there are few finer sights in sport than their players, all gliding pace and dextrous hands, smart angles and support lines, sweeping up the pitch. But the coal of French rugby has always burnt fiercest in the front-row. It is the pug faces and battered noses that are the real pin-up boys across the channel. Step forward Thomas Domingo, William Servat and Nicolas Mas – a front-row straight out of central casting, who had their Scottish counterparts on toast. The re-sets may get a bit tedious for some and there are all sorts of dark arts practiced, but there is something elemental, gladiatorial, as the front-rows crouch. Marching the opposition pack backwards is as thrilling as Maxime Medard in full flight. Plenty for Scotland to take heart from and such was the performance of Richie Gray, the second-row must have felt nearly seven feet tall.
An interesting development on Saturday night, as I followed the Six Nations reaction on Twitter. And let’s forget the tweets of Everything Rugby’s very own Tom May (@tommay1), who had his phone pinched by a mate who posted rogue tweets to embarrass the Toulon centre. No it was the conversation between Brian Moore (@brianmoorerugby) and Austin Healey (@IamAustinHealey). Now two more opinionated, and sometimes infuriating, ex-internationals you would struggle to find. You would also struggle to find two more knowledgeable, incisive and ‘call it without fear or favour’ pundits. So it was sad to hear that these two former England internationals were wondering if tweeting was worth it, given the grief and abuse thrown at them by their ‘followers’ who claim to be rugby fans. Now both these guys love a row and are certainly not delicate flowers, quite able to handle anyone having a pop at them, but when it descends into disgusting language and downright personal abuse it crosses the line. Social media has been great for banter and a lot of rugby men – current greats, former greats, armchair fans, or useless old lumps turning out for the Vets – are regular tweeters – but it also gives a ‘forum’ for cowards and creeps to post their prejudices and their filth.
On a lighter Twitter note, one of many rugby men worth following is @davidflatman, whose Twitter profile picture is Kojak. Flats obviously knows his rugby and his media career, currently as an Independent on Sunday columnist and Sky Sports pundit, will continue to thrive. But the razor-witted Bath prop is also absolutely barking on any numbers of subjects that get inside that loose head of his.
DECLAN TRANSPLANT FOR KIDNEY?
The rugby weekend was rounded off watching highlights from Wellington and the HSBC Sevens World Series. England continue to do well, although went down to the hosts New Zealand in the final. Star of the show was the flying, stepping Kiwi Declan O’Donnell, just 20, who sounds like a country musician from Donegal. Has another Declan – Ireland coach Kidney - checked the kid's ancestry? He can’t really be from Waikato? He’s even got red hair for goodness sake.