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Triumph and Tragedy

Last week was a very mixed bag so far as rugby and life goes, the tragic news that Joost van der Westhuizen was taken from the rugby fraternity by MND was a desperately saddening event for many rugby fans around the world. Joost, as many know was the first of the “new breed” of number 9’s and made an impact in that position which had never been seen before. At 6’ 2”, he wasn’t exactly a fit for the position, but the wonderful thing about Joost and his playing style was his ability to make himself fit anywhere. I don’t just mean his ability to act as utility across the field, but the fact that, at will, he seemed to lose a foot in height, turn into size 8 model and squeeze through gaps that you would probably struggle to jam a cigarette paper down. Fleet of foot, razor sharp of mind and absolutely ruthless in execution.

It takes a special type of situation to make a player stick in your mind forever more, but after watching Joost at the 1995 World Cup, quite wilfully throw himself in the path of Jonah Lomu and more importantly, take him down in critical situations, you have to ask yourself, what kind of inner strength and technique is required to haul a man to the ground who is 3 inches taller and about 5 stone heavier than yourself when he is coming at you with the blistering pace that Lomu used to carry? Suffice to say, that both Joost and Jonah changed the face of modern rugby and heavily contributed to the ferocious pace and prowess that is required to compete at the top today. That is a legacy that their family and friends can be proud of.

On to the business of the 6N, and last weekend was, well, an interesting start to proceedings. Many were expecting England to carry on the wave of the Autumn Internationals and blow France out of the water, but although the win came, those were a nerve wracking 80 minutes of rugby. The defence from France was just epic and only by the smallest margins of indiscipline did they lose the game. I doubt very much that Eddie was expecting a penalty kick to be the difference in score line at the end of this game. I can’t help but feel that this weekend at the Principality is going to be a sterner test of England’s mettle and if I could offer any advice to Eddie Jones this weekend, it would be to keep that roof open! A bit of a shake up in the ranks as well with Jack Clifford and Jack Nowell making their way into the starting line up and Clifford claiming his second cap. Eddie has faith in him against Wales after his performance during the Spring, but this will be his first 6N start, and it will be at the Principality, a daunting prospect.  

Now onto the real talking point of last weekend, what did happen to Ireland? I mentioned last week that both Scotland and Italy are much improved over the last 18 months, but did anyone envisage Scotland taking Ireland to task on the day? Everything came together like an orchestra for the Scots last weekend, home advantage, great running ball, tight defence, it was like a perfect storm that was just good enough to topple the Irish from grace. Ronan O’Gara said before the match that he hoped the Irish would “hammer” the Scots and that they had been talking the talk, but not walking the walk… well it might not have been a thumping victory for the Scots but I expect there was less walk and more strut after the event! If Scotland turn up with the same mindset and maturity to France this weekend, then there is nothing to say that they won’t take another scalp on Sunday.

Unless something horrific happens on Saturday, Ireland will be able to put the demons of last weekend swiftly to bed, as I think it would take a herculean effort for Italy to overcome the Irish, but seeing as they overturned SA in the Autumn Internationals, I guess you’d never say never.

It is a brave man who makes predictions about this weekend’s rugby but I’ll have a go.

Wales

(L)

Vs.

(W)

England

France

(L)

Vs. 

(W)

Scotland

Italy

(L)

Vs. 

(W)

Ireland

 

I have absolutely no faith in those predictions, as there are variables that play into each teams favour and you could quite happily swap all those results on any given day.

What I do have faith in, is the feeling that this weekend will bring a much sharper game of rugby from a couple of teams here and we could be in for a crackerjack of a weekend.

Enjoy,