You don’t have to be an Englishman – or even a Cornishman like me – to take delight from the first weekend of a Six Nations which promises to be one of the best.
Italy’s victory over France yesterday emphasises my point. But if England think they can take encouragement from how the French – who were supposed to be their main rivals – played, they have also been reminded of how badly it can go wrong.
England’s defeat of Scotland had echoes for me of how they beat the All Blacks in December. I appreciate the opposition was of a different calibre but Scotland showed enough to take considerable credit from their display.
The evidence now points towards the Ireland-England game being pivotal in this year’s championship
What I especially enjoyed about this England side, many of whom are juveniles really, was how they responded when their plans were not working out. Take Sean Maitland’s try after England had been pounding away: it was as if it never happened. I saw no heads drop, no change of attitude.
Perhaps England could have been more clinical in the last quarter, but by then they had lost continuity with so many replacements sent on.
What awaits them in Dublin on Sunday will be of a different order, both emotionally and physically. Even allowing for the irresistible rugby Ireland played to build their winning lead in Wales, I have no doubt this is another step England can take.
That said, only the best will be good enough, a truism endorsed by Italy in a famous victory which has given the five other nations something to ponder, not least because they set out to play an attacking game aimed at winning rather than worry about losing.
With Italy you expect passion and abrasiveness but they have realised these qualities can take them only so far. Dire as France were, the Italians put more thought and variety into their game than I have ever seen.
France, by contrast, were like 15 blokes waiting for someone to do something instead of each doing it for himself. In the end they waited right through to the final whistle.
When I played with them at Wasps, my French amis Raphael Ibanez and Serge Betsen used to take the mickey out of me for telling them we never knew which France would turn up. But it turns out I was right and the events in Rome showed it.
The evidence now points towards the Ireland-England game being pivotal in this year’s championship and that promises to be such a monumental event the English lads had better beware thinking any further ahead.
A win over the Irish is not only achievable but can lead to the title itself. As long as England aren’t thinking that way. They have only to look at what happened to France.