Friday 13 December 2019

Shutting door on Welsh the key to victory

Hugh Farrelly

WHEN you scythe through the pretension, posturing and pontificating that can accompany this gig and attempt to come up with a true definition, 'camp follower' seems the most appropriate.

Not 'camp' in the Larry Grayson sense -- although that accusation has been levelled at the better dancers in the group and those who carry their lap-top holders across the shoulders in 'man bag' fashion -- but in the military use of the term.

Historically, camp followers were the raggle-taggle collection of cooks, quacks, peddlers and prostitutes earning a living trailing after armies on the campaign trail. Following the fortunes of various sporting teams can seem an equally parasitic existence, we accompany them into battle and then sit safe behind the front-line writing about the horrors of war.

When quotes are the currency of existence, it creates an inevitable degree of obsequiousness among the needy. The players' most banal observations are treated like the musings of Aristotle while their half-hearted attempts at humour meet the enthusiasm of a Peter Kay audience.

But you drive down to the basement, park your pride in the vacant space next to self-respect and get back out there (making sure to pick up a receipt on the way).


Going on the Six Nations campaign trail is never dull and, with two rounds still to negotiate, this year's tournament has not wanted for incident.

Low points have included the decision to try pork scratchings in London on a 'when in Rome' basis (tooth-crackingly hard on the outside, a stomach-heaving mush of fat on the inside, they are the snack of choice for Hitler, Saddam and the boys in the pub of the damned).

Earning the howled indignation of a Parisien taxi driver when a tired and emotional colleague insisted on sleeping with his head in your lap was another unpleasant, and misconstrued, moment. (Tipping in these circumstances is not easy, particularly when your man bag adds to the confusion.)

However, the high point thus far was unquestionably the Twickenham press box last weekend.

The English rugby media are, individually, some of the best and friendliest in the business. Collectively, it can be hard to avoid the sense -- from certain quarters -- of being regarded as country bumpkins mixing with the aristocracy. Tug your forelock, snaffle a few leftover pies and take your seat ... happy to be here, sir.

It makes victory all the sweeter but, completely outnumbered, you cannot overtly express that sense of satisfaction, so you catch the eyes of your fellow bumpkins and use a wink or a clenched fist to get it across.


Given the sense of deep frustration in the English media after another victory squandered and further evidence of an overall lack of direction, Martin Johnson's post-match press conference threatened to be an incendiary affair.

With a few exceptions, Johnson has had a soft ride since he took control of England's rugby fortunes despite (or possibly because of) having no coaching pedigree. There were serious questions to answer but the reputation he forged as captain and player appears to cow the majority of his inquisitors.

Each question began with the familiar "Johnno ... " address and the focus was firmly on the contentious maul and penalty reversal decisions rather than any deficiencies in England's play.

There is no doubt Johnson is an intimidating presence at the top table but, while last Saturday had a moral-victory quality, stemming from those aforementioned decisions and the fact that defeat had been inflicted by the Grand Slam champions, there can surely be no such latitude if England go down at Murrayfield this weekend.

But that is not Ireland's problem. Wales will mince their way to Dublin ready to throw some serious shapes on the Croke Park dance floor and this game will hinge on the Irish defence hitting the remarkable heights it reached in Twickenham. Unlike England, Wales have got game out wide and the key for Ireland is to stifle them at source.

Or, as Larry might put it: "Shut that door."

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