Pride fires Welsh resurgence
March 28, 2007
James Hook ended the tournament on a high with a man of the match showing against England © PA Photos
I have to confess I was full of trepidation for my beloved Wales going into the England match but I should have known better. Pride is a wonderful thing and the front five in particular raised their game spectacularly to salvage the season.
I just don't buy the 'England were awful' slant which most of my colleagues have gone for. Wales were terrific on the day and would have beaten any side in the world apart from the All Blacks. Only New Zealand could match the commitment to creative attacking rugby and if they had had a little more composure when it came to finishing they would have rewritten the record books.
It reminded me of the 1966/67 season. Wales lost to Australia in December and then Scotland (when I made my debut), Ireland and France. We were facing our first ever Five Nations whitewash. I was certainly not feeling very confident about my future in international rugby and neither, I suspect, were Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies or Dai Morris who had all been capped for the first time that season - another new cap, Barry John, had already been dropped.
Along came Keith Jarrett to score 19 points on his debut against England and we all survived to help form the backbone of the most successful Welsh team of the modern era. This win over England might prove a similar turning point.
My surge of optimism comes not from the performance of the backs - we know we have talent there and in the back-row - but from the effort put in by the front five. They knew they had to deliver more ball and they tore into England in a way I haven't seen from a Welsh pack in decades. One game does not make a great team but some are seminal.
The Championship showed yet again how hard it is to win a Grand Slam and how little there really is between the teams - remember that ludicrous suggestion that England and France were too good for the rest? If you fail to perform at your top level you lose. Every team had its day but none was good enough to complete the job this time round.
Ireland came closest and I'm sure they would have won the Championship and a Grand Slam for only the second time in their history if Brian O'Driscoll had been fit enough to stay on the pitch for the full 80 minutes in every game. He is not only the most gifted attacking centre in the world at the moment but also one of the strongest and most aggressive defenders as well as being a tough, inspirational captain.
I have no doubts that he would have kept the Irish team concentrating in those final minutes against France and on an individual basis he would never have allowed Vincent Clerc to wade through his territorial waters in the centre to score the winning try.
He was absent again in the final crucial few minutes against Italy when they shipped two tries to allow France to take the RBS Trophy on points difference. It was that lack of concentration and not the television scheduling that cost Ireland the Championship.
Let's put that to bed as well. As a commentator I get a little fed up with television stations being accused of being responsible for everything that is wrong with the time of year the Championship takes place and the timings of kick-offs in particular.
Eddie O'Sullivan, the Irish Coach was quick to point the finger of blame at the TV companies when France pipped them at the post with that late try but he should have been pointing to the need (or greed) of the Unions. No television programme controller wants three matches on one day. They are a nightmare to schedule and even the most avid fan is struggling to stay focused by the end.
In an ideal television world the Six Nations would be played on 15 consecutive weekends with one match each weekend. It would be a wonderful product for the programmers, sponsors would be delighted to have a longer period of exposure and the fans would be able to go off on their traditional weekends with a little more time to save-up in between - perfect.
But, totally impractical with the demands of all the other competitions involved in professional rugby. So, it's very simple. If the Six Nations want maximum television revenue they have to schedule the games so that they can all be seen live. If they all kick-off at 3.00pm on a Saturday afternoon we have to revert to regional broadcasting. That would mean 5 live matches instead of 15 and the contract would certainly halve in value.
The reality is that international rugby still funds the professional game and the television revenue is a vital part of that so we are stuck with an imperfect format. Nevertheless, it is still the most competitive, vibrant, best supported championship in the world and may it continue to surprise and thrill for centuries to come.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh