Chase for Six Nations glory wide open
March 11, 2007
"Controversial as the final moments in Rome were, Wales should reflect that the real failing was their arrogant belief that they could turn that final penalty into a try against Italy's resolute defence." Huw Richards reports
I don't believe it, but it was a nice idea. As the Irishman in the media room at Twickenham said of Shane Geraghty :"Sure, he was great - and that's why we gave him to England."
It's an attractive thought - that the second of England's plutonium blondes -, following on from the vibrantly fearless example set by Dave Strettle, is a 'sleeper' planted by the Irish Rugby Football Union to advance their interests in other matches.
It is not as if he merely has an Irish name, or plays for London Irish. He won Irish youth honours before opting for England, the country of his birth.
No doubt he did Ireland an immense favour. They'll go into the final weekend of the Six Nations next Saturday with a serious shot at the title, trailing the French only by a four-point margin in points difference.
England also have a shot, albeit a long one, and those with a taste for the truly extraordinary will point out that Italy could still in theory take the title.
France, in spite of their abysmal show at Twickenham, remain the favourites, and not just because of that four-point edge and a further 25 point advantage over the English.
They have what should certainly be the easiest fixture, at home to Scotland, and thanks to the Six Nations Committee's inequitable policy of favouring the demands of television over those of fair competition, will start it knowing what they have to do to overtake Ireland.
Ireland will feel they were due some joy from this weekend. In spite of claiming a third Triple Crown in four years - an achievement beyond even the greatest previous Irish teams - they won't remember it with much pleasure.
Even the moment of triumph was clouded as they flooded towards the prone Ronan O'Gara, their manner displaying the panic which accompanies only the most frightening injuries.
They hadn't played well, dissipating huge quantities of possession and position. They began as if likely to score 50 and when they led by only four at half-time - and that by courtesy of yet another piece of Scottish generosity, admittedly brilliantly exploited by O'Gara - it always seemed possible that the Scots might take more than just restored pride from the afternoon.
Their failure to put the match beyond doubt while the Scots were reduced to 14 men by the yellow-carding of Nathan Hines, instead finishing the spell with their advantage reduced to a single point, suggested a team thoroughly out of sorts.
There must be doubts over the participation of O'Gara, D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll - for all that the Irish skipper was able cheerfully to brandish a trophy that gave the impression that he had just won the ladies' singles at Wimbledon - in Rome after injuries in the final minutes at Murrayfield. Paul O'Connell is already out.
Even the All Blacks would miss that quartet, and Ireland will be coming up against an Italian team on an unprecedented high after winning consecutive Six Nations matches for the first time ever.
Controversial as the final moments in Rome were, Wales should reflect that the real failing was their arrogant belief that they could turn that final penalty into a try against Italy's resolute defence.
Given similar circumstances against any other Six Nations opponent and there's little doubt that they'd have taken the points and the draw and felt grateful for them.
Those seeking small mercies can find them in James Hook's performance, confirmation of the potential shown in the autumn.
Further bad news for Wales is that to avoid a whitewash they'll need to take something from an England team whose latest new dawn looks more convincing than the last, only last month against Scotland.
That victory was built around the old formula of slow-motion grind and Jonny's boot. This one had a verve and tempo that lacked, with Tom Rees at last balancing the back row, his support play supplying the continuity England have lacked in recent years and of which the French were woefully short of on the day.
Nor is there any need to rush Jonny Wilkinson back, with Toby Flood and the dashing Geraghty contesting the number 10 shirt.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin