Rugby Union, bloody hell. We’ve got to talk about Eddie, but before that, what about something much cheerier? Just when it seemed the game was for the big bruisers of northern Europe and the southern hemisphere, Italy show us that it ain’t necessarily so. It seemed impossible that anyone could upstage France’s victory parade on the last day, but that is just what Italy’s heroic XV did, by upsetting the only team that had come close to bringing down Antoine Dupont and his crew of Gallic legends.
Already the best try of the tournament – and the sporting highlight of the year so far – has been set to ‘Nessun dorma’. It was a piece of sublime and utterly unexpected brilliance made more glorious by its timing (the last move of the match), its result (a one-point victory over Wales), and its architect, full-back Ange Capuozzo, a fresh-faced magician coming in at 11 stone, less than half the weight of one French prop. So thank the gods that when the kings of the rugby jungle value brute force more than skill, a young deer can skip his way through an entire herd of wildebeest.
Eddie Jones once did something similar when he crafted Japan’s uplifting 2015 World Cup victory over South Africa. But there’s been nothing like it for some time. His England team, with some extremely talented players, is consistently underperforming. So whose fault is that? If it’s all about the World Cup, as Eddie endlessly tells us, and everything else – the Six Nations, the summer tours, the autumn internationals – is part of a ‘development project’, then just charge us £10 rather than £150. It is disrespectful to the Six Nations to treat this great tournament as a training run-out. The All Blacks want to win all their games: elite sport is not part of a development project.
And why is his contract so long? The Rugby Football Union, who burble nonsensically about being ‘encouraged by the solid progress’ under Jones, will argue that it gives stability. I can’t see much stability in the endless chopping and changing – and the other side of stability is complacency.
Of all his flaws – the macho posturing, the incessant bigging-up of ‘brutality’ – perhaps the most annoying is his habit of destroying young talent by picking them as squad members and then ignoring them. The French had five team changes over the tournament; England had 18. Still, Eddie is good at world cups, having got Australia and England to finals in 2003 and 2019 respectively. Hard to see that happening next year in France though.
While we’re on the subject, will the broadcasters now finally realise the folly of naming the man of the match before the end of the game? In the Wales match Josh Adams got the nod after 76 minutes – a tad premature given how many games last well into the 80s – and look what happened next. Adams made good by handing his award to the creator of the wonder try, Capuozzo, after the match: a magnificent and moving sporting gesture. But one hopes the broadcasters have learned their lesson. Naming the man of the match before the final whistle is a recipe for injustice, the sporting equivalent of a jury returning a verdict before hearing all the evidence.
So what have we learned from England’s cricket red ball ‘reset’ currently in action against a determined but moderate West Indies? Well, Joe Root is a class apart, one of the very best there’s ever been, and Ben Stokes is quite literally invaluable. Oh, and we don’t really have an opening bowler who can stick it to a batsman, nor yet a spinner in the class of Graeme Swann (or, sorry, Jim Laker), however heroic Jack Leach’s tireless ability to wheel away. But I thought we knew all that already.
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