Oval Talk

Even gardening wins over drab England

Oval Talk

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Two things struck Oval Talk as England and Scotland played out a tedious, try-less, and drab Six Nations encounter at Murrayfield last weekend.

Describing the first as an epiphany might be over-egging the cake somewhat, but that is how it felt as OT - for the first time ever - wondered whether it might not have been better served doing something different to watching rugby on this particular Saturday afternoon.

Actually, let's quantify that to watching the current England squad play their brand of joyless, unimaginative rugby.

So dull was the fare on offer from England in Edinburgh that not taking advantage of the early spring sunshine to give the lawn some much-needed TLC suddenly seemed a missed opportunity.

For someone who gets easily distracted by a meaningless local 3rd XV match, this came as quite a shock.

Rugby has always been an unquestionable source of interest and the fact it may no longer be the case had OT issuing a number of expletives in the direction of one of the teams in action - and guess what: they weren't wearing blue.

The second thing to dawn on OT came at full-time, moments after Toby Flood had made a Horlicks of securing what would have been an underserved England victory with a botched drop-goal attempt.

Not only did OT not care what manager Martin Johnson and his try-hard skipper Steve Borthwick had to say, avoiding their post-match interviews seemed positively the right thing to do - for sanity's sake at least.

Such is the waffle that has been forthcoming from this drab duo since their struggles started in - well, since they were appointed manager and captain respectively - OT just could not be bothered to listen to more well-worn excuses.

A later perusal of their quotes saw Johnson again claiming that England are making progress, while Borthwick blamed "indiscipline" for their failure to win at Murrayfield - justifying OT's decision to reach for the off button.

No amount of excuses and reasons can disguise the fact that under their current stewardship England are a very average side, one only able to live with the top teams in world rugby because of a limited, risk-free approach.

Thankfully, Ireland's impressive composure and clinical finishing against a flawed but entertaining Wales, as well as France's free-flowing destruction of Italy, lifted OT's spirits either side of the Murrayfield 'mare.

Rugby is still the sport to watch for OT, just not the games involving England.

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Milestone of the week: Brian O'Driscoll 100 caps

O'Driscoll may not have had his best game for Ireland as they made relatively light work of a porous Wales side in Dublin, but his influence on Irish rugby over the past decade has been truly immense. The Leinster centre may not have the speed of old, but he still possesses the rare ability to change the destiny of a game. Such is his importance to this Ireland side, if O'Driscoll can remain injury-free up to the World Cup next year, then Ireland will always have an outside chance of claiming rugby's greatest prize.

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Stat of the week - number of line-breaks in Scotland v England game: 1

That represents a tenth of the line-breaks from Paris where France ran amok against Italy, and six fewer than in the Ireland-Wales game in Dublin. What's most surprising though is that the line-break was actually made by England, because from where OT was sitting there was only one team trying to play any attacking rugby.

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Try of the week: David Marty (FRA) v Italy

OT could easily have opted for one of several glorious tries at the Stade de France, but has gone for Marty's second score against the Azzurri. A now regular moment of magic from full-back Clemet Poitrenaud sees France counter from their own 22, before a lovely Yannick Jauzion pop pass releases the incomparable Imanol Harinordoquy, who again shows his running skills by bringing play deep into Italy territory before releasing Marty to touch down in the corner. Exciting, skilful and ambitious.

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What a difference a year makes:

England secured second spot in last year's Six Nations by closing out the championship with wins over France and Scotland. Okay, so the results may in fact have disguised deeper problems within the England set-up, but it was just about possible to identify one or two areas of progress. Not so this year, and one cannot help but fear for an England team struggling to produce any cohesive rugby against a France side with their tails up and playing at home for the Grand Slam. England beat Les Bleus 34-10 last year, but there is more chance of Steve Borthwick getting dropped than there is of repeating that feat.

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