ENGLAND’S abject performance against Scotland, the worst they have ever played under the coaching of Eddie Jones, their first defeat by the Scots at Twickenham for 38 years, brought acute misery to the country’s long-suffering sports fans. A friend who saw it with me refused to watch yesterday’s game against Italy (even though England were pretty certain to win that one). My brother-in-law said he turned the TV off to save himself further punishment.
Yet, only three days later, the same fans were filled with delight at the England cricket team’s magnificent victory over India at Chennai. Such is the randomness of sport. So random, in fact, that Joe Root’s men could find themselves on the receiving end of India’s revenge in the twinkling of an eye – and Eddie Jones could end up winning the Six Nations championship. Maybe.
One of the many things that maddened me about the Scottish result was that that it would have brought joy to that vexatious virago, Nicola Sturgeon, who would have seen it as a kick in the teeth of the English monster that would hasten the Scots along the road to independence.
I am not opposed to Scottish independence if that is what a majority of its people really want, but I am not an admirer of the way Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party have been running the country. A respected Scottish political commentator wrote the other day that she runs “a truly appalling government…incompetent, ego-filled, scandal-hit…a ragbag of egos enmeshed in a bitter internal war…a domestic policy that is second to none in ineptitude.” Come on, Mr Cochrane, why don’t you say what you really think?
What the Scottish victory showed, like South Africa’s performance in smashing England in the Rugby World Cup final in 2019, is that sheer intensity and a take-no-prisoners will to win can overcome the supposedly best coached and best organised opposition. England had some reasonable excuses: the pandemic had meant that some of their team hadn’t played for several weeks, especially the Saracens contingent, who made up a third of the team, and the absence through injury of half their first-choice pack.
Nonetheless, it was the lack of direction or imagination in their attack on which England foundered, suggesting that it is the 8-9-10 axis, so crucial to any team, of Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs and Billy Vunipola that is letting them down. Farrell is much better suited to inside centre than fly-half, the ageing Youngs must surely soon give way to an eager attacking scrum-half like Dan Robson or Harry Randall, and Vunipola has lost the penetration he used to have.
Too many of the backs need to be motivated by the prospect of losing their place, or sitting out a game on the bench. They seem to be too sure of their places and need to be challenged by some of the youngsters Jones brings into his squad but then opts out of risking them in the team. He will have to do that before long, as some of his favourites are unlikely to play in the next Rugby World Cup in 2023.
With George Ford at fly-half, Farrell back in the centre, and three of the four missing forwards back in the team, England must win in Wales and Ireland (away fixtures are much less formidable when there are no loud, home-supporting crowds) or Jones will have to regroup or risk losing his job. That would be pity, in my view, because he worked England up to a world-beating level in the quarter and semi-final of the last World Cup and can hopefully do that again. One sometimes feels that his refusal to make selection changes is because he doesn’t want to look as though as he is giving in to pressure from the media.
I have written here before about the way Jonny Bairstow has been badly treated by the England cricket selectors. He was sent home to rest, against his own wishes, for the first two Tests in India after being called in to fill the breach at number three in the batting line-up in Sri Lanka, which he nobly did. By responding loyally to the selectors’ call to replace the injured Ollie Pope, he had to give up at the last minute a lucrative deal with Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash.
He no longer has a central contract with England, so he complied because he likes paying Test cricket for England, for which one might have expected the selectors to be grateful. But no, he is sent home, even though he could easily have covered for the rested Jos Buttler behind the wicket in the last three Tests.The number three slot is still a problem for England, though it has been covered by Root’s devastating form. How England will manage if the skipper gets out early remains to be seen.
The arm injury to Jofra Archer gave the selectors the chance to revoke the dumb decision they had made to rest Jimmy Anderson for the second Test when the world’s leading wicket-taker is in a surge of form that belies his 38 years. In Anderson, Archer and Stuart Broad England are lucky to have probably the best three pace bowlers in the world. To leave out Anderson when Archer is missing looks like a self-inflicted wound, for which they may pay a price. India must have been delighted, if nobody else.
Why my friend lives in Majorca
This little story was sent to me by a friend. “Why I live in Pollensa. I was coughing badly, so took myself down to the local GP. No appointment was needed and no waiting time when I got there. He prescribed a one-week course of antibiotics, which I reluctantly agreed to take. A week later and feeling a bit better but not quite right, I returned to the GP’s surgery. He recommended a CAT scan at Muro hospital. I went there at mid-day and had the scan by early afternoon (result next week).The following day I was given an appointment with a specialist, who sent me for blood test scan, which cost about 500 Euros (possibly refunded), a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Glasgow it would be about two weeks for an appointment and who knows how long for a scan?”
Zoom a goat
Advice for anyone stressed by lockdown. A farmer in Lancashire is offering a Zoom call with his goats. Only £5. For that you get to meet Lizzie and her brood. She will even bleat for you.
About that for a Valentine’s Day gift?
WHILE on the subject of animals, Waitrose are apparently thinking of promoting their beef as supplied by Happy Cows, which evidently get 120 days of grazing. I wonder how happy the cows are, though, about the end that befalls them in the abattoir before they reach the store?