Spectator sport

This Six Nations could be anyone’s – and it couldn’t be more exciting

10 February 2018

9:00 AM

10 February 2018

9:00 AM

‘It’s never easy going to Rome,’ observed Anthony Watson after the traditional mauling of a hard-working but outgunned Italian side at the weekend. Eh? Well Watson is a brilliant winger (two tries in ten minutes no less) and a thoughtful and well-spoken credit to English rugby. But a difficult trip, Anthony? Sure the A23 to Gatwick can be pretty hellish, valet parking is a tad pricey, and security a nightmare. And don’t get me started on Fiumicino Airport. But all that said, Anthony, I don’t think it’s never easy going to Rome. And in the unlikely event you were referring to the rugby: come off it. England never fail to beat poor Italy.

Which is a great pity: at last, Italy are going in the right direction under Conor O’Shea. I would love to see them beat a top team in a game that matters: it’s a great shirt, a great anthem and a fabulous country. It has been the home of great individuals — champion skiers like Alberto Tomba and MotoGP winners like Valentino Rossi. Italians doing well at sport has a touch of magic that isn’t there when an Anglo-Saxon does it. But for Italian rugby, just being a ‘potential banana skin’ isn’t much of a role to play for 20 years. Italy failed to qualify for the Fifa World Cup, Serie A isn’t that great, and there are no Italian drivers in Formula One.

Having modestly invested in France for the Six Nations, Johnny Sexton’s intergalactic dropped goal deep into added time came as something of a knife to my heart. As the ball went over, Sexton found himself at the bottom of a football-style pile-on as every Irish player jumped on top of him. Whatever happened to the traditional rugby way of celebrating a score: a gentle jog back to the halfway line with a modest smile at your team-mates and a diffident thumbs up?

Ireland weren’t as good as some people thought: tough and businesslike, certainly, but they should have lost. Wales, on the other hand, were miles better than expected: very dynamic and exciting half-backs, and a new back row. With Leigh Halfpenny at the top of his game, the whole team looked revitalised against a Scottish team that had been tipped to make the Welsh struggle. This Six Nations could be anybody’s, and I am looking forward to a couple of brilliant games. Maybe this weekend at Twickenham, where England face the Welsh. It couldn’t be more exciting.

The tsunami of outrage sweeping British sport about F1 grid girls and the like doesn’t seem to have crossed the Atlantic, judging by the acreage of flesh on show at a spellbinding Super Bowl. It is difficult to have a view on this without sounding like something from the neolithic period but it is hard to see quite what is wrong with broads wearing very little to brighten up sports events. Or vice versa. The Times is currently running a series of pictures of top athletes, entirely naked, under the heading ‘My sporting body’. Is that so different? Maybe a lack of clothes and sports just go together.

Meanwhile the Tour de France is sticking with its podium girls, and boxing with its card girls but, sadly, not darts with its walk-on girls. Those familiar with the golden age of Ally Pally will remember the two Nicolas, Cowell and Methven, both hugely likeable people, who would walk the darts guys on to the stage. That was the moment where you got to judge the players: were they gentlemen enough to allow the walk-on girl to take the steps up to the stage ahead of them or did they thoughtlessly barrel on up, with the walk-on girl in their wake? This being darts, where standards of behaviour and kindness are high, most stood aside.

As the Winter Olympics get under way, keep an eye open for the biathlon. When Putin marches into Estonia, the more people who are good at that stuff, the better.

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