Saturday 18 November 2017

Was this the worst Six Nations ever?

Niall Crozier

THOSE of us privileged -- and fortunate -- enough to have seen the great Welsh side of the 1970s, the free-flowing French of the 1980s, and even the powerful though at-times-graceful English of the 1990s won't have savoured the Six Nations Championship just ended.

If you like the concepts of space and a running game in which the ball is put quickly through good hands to wingers of real pace, it won't have been for you.

Nothing new in that; there has been little fluent football in recent years.

Admittedly we, the Irish, were delighted to win the Grand Slam in 2009.

But in truth our pleasure stemmed from the result rather than the performance.

It was brass rather than gold; efficient rather than magnificent.

Sadly that has now become the norm.

Tony Ward summed it up perfectly, saying: "Professionalism has brought a structure to the game and made it more like rugby league.

"From kick-off you get two banks of players looking to smash into each other. Creative players do not have a chance.

"I don't like the way the game is played so close to the gain line, either.

"I can see why it is happening, because players don't want to get caught deep with the ball."

The just-ended series featured another raft of battering ram, bulldozer games punctuated by occasional flashes of subtlety good enough to baffle blanket defences.

France have emerged as deserving champions by virtue of the fact that they have tried to play rugby reflective of their core values and representative of their belief in big, hard forwards winning possession to release fast, clever backs.

That said, would you rather watch Mathieu Bastareaud trying to batter a door down using sheer bulk or Philippe Sella unpick the lock by dint of pure skill?

While Wales are acknowledged as a side trying to play rugby the right way, conversely castigated for too-rigid an adherence to a noble principle which has seen them concede too many tries.

England were, well, England.

Big, hard, dour, predictable and robotic.

And unable even to point to the ends having justified the means.

Unless third out of six runners is deemed to be success for the country with the world's biggest rugby-playing population.

When you hear one of their own players, Simon Shaw, express the misgiving that there is a danger of everyone becoming "gym monkeys", that's a sign of the times.

Scotland did what Scotland do. Wholly unpredictable and always capable of self-destruction, they lose to France, Wales -- remarkable example of implosion, that -- and Italy.

Then they draw with England before upstaging Ireland.

Attractive? No. Scavengers aren't. Ever seen a pretty vulture?

It boils down to what way the paying punters -- and at 75 Euro for a ticket, they paid plenty -- want to see.

If, ultimately, it's a case of success regardless of the manner of its attainment, expect more of the same.

Source: Belfast Telegraph

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