The return heavyweight bout between England and Wales lived up to its billing as the most thumping rugby match of the Six Nations. It was also the perfect result for both sides. England’s win brings the Grand Slam in sight, but Wales get to feel smug that they could have won if they had played on for a couple more minutes against an England team clutching at air with the bench emptied and the two leaders, Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw, withdrawn. There’s nothing the Welsh like more in the absence of a win than claiming the moral high ground.
In a masterstroke of man-management, the England coach Eddie Jones — who will presumably soon be walking to work on water — singled out Robshaw as his player of the season. That’s the very same man very publicly iced as skipper after the World Cup. I’m not sure he was the very best player — Vunipola, Ben Youngs and James Haskell have all been pretty good — but how astute of Jones to single out the man with most reason to feel aggrieved. The captain who is quite happy to return to the ranks and still give it everything is a rare beast.
Both Eddie Jones and the Welsh coach Warren Gatland are tough former hookers who don’t like to give an inch. Their mindset is built on ruthless defence and, in Warrenball’s case, sending very big men at speed in the straightest line. It brought two grand slams for Wales. Now Jones’s England have taken the upper hand, with a superb back row denying the Welsh any ball. The post-2003 experiment of using home-country coaches — Johnson, Robinson and Lancaster — just didn’t work out. But the Antipodean will to win has done the trick, first for Wales and now for England. As Jones says, you don’t want to beat teams with just a strong defence. I can’t wait to see where he will take England.
Sorry to see that England front-row tree-trunk Joe Marler might be in a pickle for his jibe at Welsh rival Samson Lee. But in terms of the usual levels of obscenity and violence in an international front row, calling someone ‘gypsy boy’ is like shaking their hand and giving them a big kiss. Gareth Chilcott’s memoir has eye-watering stories of verbal and physical damage. Even the saintly Sean Fitzpatrick was not averse to a mouthful of abuse when scrumming down. Anyway, I have always had a soft spot of Marler, a rough-and-ready character who has spent most of his rugby life with a pink mohican haircut and the words Jolly Sausages shaved into his head to plug a mate’s shop. And in the annals of abuse he is not even in the frame when you think about John Terry’s sparkling admonishment to Anton Ferdinand: of which the only non-obscene word — ‘black’ — effectively finished Terry’s international career. So mercy for Marler: you know it makes sense.
You have to hand it to Maria Sharapova: all those years as an elite athlete, the grand slams, the endless training, the constant touring, networking and marketing to develop her brand and pull in the millions. And it turns out she was suffering from a range of serious ailments, from angina to diabetes, that required treatment with a Latvian-made medication called meldonium. And she never mentioned it at all. Such heroic restraint. And purely by chance the medication she was taking for 16 years had the unforeseen bonus of increasing blood flow and recovery times. What a coincidence.
Quite rightly, Leicester City have been everyone’s dream team and Claudio Ranieri the recipient of declarations of love from all and sundry, not least Robbie Savage. It’s a pity all this Foxy joy has obscured Eddie Howe’s success on the south coast. It is almost as outstanding an achievement to keep Bournemouth up as it is to have Leicester challenging for the title and a Champions League spot.