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Peter Bills: Living life in the fast lane at Six Nations

Let's call it Six Nations fever. Well, that explains it as well as anything. The grand old tournament, which begins this year in Cardiff tomorrow night when Wales meet England, seems to infuse each country with a unique, lovely lunacy.

And you don't have to be a rugby nut to get caught up in the atmosphere, to share all the excitement. Far from it. Normally sane people seem to do the craziest things at this time of year and the whole rugby fervour to be found in Dublin, Cardiff, Paris, London, Edinburgh and Rome rubs off on everyone.

How else to explain some of the journeys people experience from, to or around the respective stadia? Of course, the players, bussed sedately to and from the grounds by police escort, wouldn't experience such things. But the rest of us do.

I came out of the old Lansdowne Road a few years ago after one Ireland versus France game. We'd waited ages for the press conference and, naturally, Ireland came in last. These things matter when you're booked on an evening flight out and time is short.

The time equation became ridiculous. I left the ground at about 6.10 to try and make a 6.45 flight. But... no taxis in sight. In desperation, I rushed into the middle of the road and flagged down a car.

"What's the trouble?" said the concerned man.

"Are you going near the airport?" I asked.

"Er, no. Jump in," said the driver.

Don't ask me how, but without exaggeration, even though I still don't know how we lived, we made it in 11 minutes. If we'd been caught, he'd have been thrown off the road for life. But I got the plane.

In Rome another year, after an Italy versus Ireland game, something remarkably similar occurred. Except this was even worse. I'd taken the precaution of ordering a cab to stand by, and not right outside the ground as I feared being trapped in local traffic around the stadium.

So, with the press conferences finally at an end, I sprinted from the stadium to the pre-arranged meeting point beside the main road exit from the city. Disastrous news awaited. There was an accident on the autostrada towards Ciampino Airport and we'd have to take a route skirting the city.

I knew the flight closed at 6.10 and I'd left the stadium at 5.30. But surely that was enough time. It might have been had we not come across a wonderfully typical Italian scene, somewhere in a Rome suburb. Two cars smashed into each other, two red-faced drivers waving their arms around and hurling insults at each other. And the traffic was stuck.

An Englishman jumping out of his taxi and giving them some old-fashioned advice about getting their damn cars out of the road was probably not quite what they, or the situation, required at that particular moment. But too bad.

As we got nearer the airport, seconds not minutes became crucial. And the cursing and shouting from the back seat seemed to infuse the driver's mind. Basically, he accepted the challenge.


So much so that, confronted with a red traffic light and a long line of queuing vehicles, he seized the initiative in glorious Italian fashion. He steered the car up onto the pavement, sat on his horn and drove down the pavement, scattering pedestrians. I'd never had so many fists waved at me in my entire journalistic career, which is saying something.

At the next junction, he was so late for a light it had long since gone red. He swerved to avoid the first cars coming from the other way, their drivers distinctly unamused to see a lunatic roaring at them from behind a red light and then waving fists at them as he passed.

We roared into the airport like a jet landing... at 6.08. He then stopped too far from the check-in entrance, realised his mistake, nearly killed a family of four in getting me closer... and I checked in at 6.09, the last on the flight. He probably retired on the tip I gave him.

Why do normally sane human beings do these things, especially at this time of the year? My theory is, they all get caught up in the excitement of a tournament that is the envy of the world... and I'm sticking to it.

It will form the central part of my defence the day I appear in court with some poor taxi driver.

Irish Independent