Who is going to win the Six Nations championship? Now, after the second round of matches, seems a good time to look ahead. All one can be sure about is that two nations, Scotland and Italy, are out of it. Their match in Rome next Saturday will be a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
Two countries, France and Ireland, are the front-runners, with two wins under their belt; Wales and England have won one and lost one. The decider may come next Sunday when Ireland visit Twickenham. If they beat England, the Irish will win the Triple Crown, having already disposed of Scotland and Wales.
They looked strong against Wales last week, with captain Johnny Sexton back to form and fitness. They have a pack to match England in the scrum and lineout and some very lively backs – much more lively, in fact, than England’s half-backs and threequarters have been so far, with the sole exception of Jonny May.
If England win, however (as I think they might, just) they will be back in the hunt, with a home tie again against Wales to follow. Wales, who won the Grand Slam last year, are still in with a chance of winning the championship themselves, but they would have to beat both France and England and rely on other contenders missing bonus points.
The French have started well, but they will have to show the same form away from home against Wales and Scotland and beat Ireland in Paris in their final match – tough hurdles for such a young side. But in theory, any one any of the leading four could end up as champions.
If England lose at home to Ireland next weekend, having been so lacklustre against France in their opening game, the knives will be out again for coach Eddie Jones. This is demonstrably unfair, as the Australian took England to the final of the Rugby World Cup - for the first time for 12 years – only last November. Their victory over the All Blacks in the semi-final was the finest England performance I can remember – and I’ve been watching them for over 50 years.
Defeat in either or both of these home fixtures, however, will renew the calls for Jones to be sacked, however unfairly. The trouble is that Jones does himself no favours with his pre-match comments and even seems to court unpopularity with the public and the media. His promise to deliver “brutality” on the young French side was not only unwise (and untrue, as it turned out) but reflected badly on the image of the game.
His refusal to explain some odd selection decisions, such as his failure to include any number eights in his squad when Billy Vunipola broke his arm again, seemed designed to enrage his critics. He was so determined to turn Tom Curry into a number eight that he stubbornly ignored the claims of other players experienced in that position, even in reserve.
In the event, Curry confirmed his right to that position with a superb game in Edinburgh in the terrible conditions brought about by Storm Ciera, though he will be severely tested by the Irish and Welsh back rows. Until then a final judgement has to be suspended.
Those stormy conditions at Murrayfield made me wonder why there was no roof over the pitch, as there is at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. With the colossal revenues now being earned in international rugby, this is surely an urgent item for the agendas of all the ruling bodies. Either that or start moving fixtures into the summer months.
The chief executive of the Scotland Rugby Football Union, Mark Dodson, earned £933, 000 in salary and benefits in the year to May 2019. The directors of the SRFU earned a total of over £2.2 million. Yet their profits were down and they had a terrible season in the Six Nations (second to bottom) and in the Rugby World Cup, where they lost to Japan and failed to get out of the pool stage.
They were also fined, and Dodson had to apologise, for remarks that were said to bring the game into disrepute. Hardly a record that justified doubling the boss’s salary. If there is so much cash swimming about in Scottish rugby, perhaps more of it could be spent on improving the comfort of players and spectators in bad weather.
England’s 13-6 victory has been put down to luck and to the bounce of the ball in the wet and windy conditions. Credit should also be given to the success of their lineout and scrum in the second half, when the Scottish lineout virtually collapsed and their scrum was pushed backwards. England also secured seven turnovers to one.
If Anthony Watson and Manu Tuilagi are fit for the Ireland game, I would expect them to replace George Furbank and Jonathan Joseph. I would also like to see Ben Youngs return at scrum-half for Willie Heinz after the powerful part he played in the demolition of Ireland in Dublin last season.
Bird woman of Majorca
That fascinating article in the Bulletin last week by Neville James-Davies on the birding pioneers of Majorca had special relevance in my family because he highlighted the important role played by Pat Bishop in helping to start the Albufera nature reserve at Alcudia.
Pat is my mother-in-law. Mr James-Davies said he hadn’t met her: I’m pleased to tell him that she will be 90 this year and is living in Hereford, where my wife Claire and I will be seeing her at the end of the month. She is proud and delighted to be remembered.
A couple of years ago, as part of its 30th birthday celebrations, the Albufera authorities gave her a special award to mark her contribution to the reserve. She wasn’t well enough to travel to Majorca, so Claire received it on her behalf. Two hides are named after her and her late husband, Dennis Bishop, who left money to fund a laboratory and library there. I remember the first time, six years ago, that Pat showed our young son, Ben, around Albufera. He was three at the time and ran ahead of her, in a state of great excitement, when they arrived at one of the Bishop hides.
Unfortunately, some twitchers had been sitting there in silent vigil for a long time, their binoculars poised, patiently awaiting the appearance of a kingfisher. When Ben made his noisy entrance, the birds flew away. All Pat could do in her embarrassment was to point to a plaque on the wall and say: “I’m so sorry, I was showing him the hide named after his grandfather.”