After a rather hectic day of domestic engagements and chores yesterday, in the evening I served my particular take on Welsh rarebit (involving Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and extra mature cheddar since you ask) and uncorked a bottle of chardonnay in order to join the family in front of the television to watch Sky Sports’ live coverage from 7.00pm of England’s final warm-up match against Conor O’Shea’s Italy at the St James’s Park stadium in Newcastle.
The one benefit of having reached Saturday 7th September is that, with a majority of the squads playing in the Rugby World Cup departing from today for Japan, we rugby fans are at last spared the ordeal of having to watch any more warm-up matches in the run-up to the tournament.
In one sense it could be said that on the day, from an England point of view, the RFU’s PR stunt rise of ‘taking the national squad on the road’ to the North-East (and indeed Newcastle United’s iconic home ground) as a minor gesture to mollify regional resentment about the fact that it plays so rarely anywhere but Twickenham – a move also designed to promote rugby union generally – backfired with embarrassing appropriateness.
Eddie Jones had picked a hotch-potch XV of first-teamers (many on the bench), a debutant (wing threequarter Ruaridh McConnochie, the sevens player), and several players in need of an outing. The fact that one of the few to impress – centre Joe Marchant – is not even in the 31-man squad for Japan spoke volumes.
England’s eventual 37-0 victory (9-0 at half-time, three penalties from captain Owen Farrell) was a totally meaningless victory most resembling a glorified training outing.
That the 40,000-plus Geordies attracted to the game must have been as puzzled and bored by the spectacle as the rest of us watching in television was evident from the regular and vain encouragements of the stadium announcer for more noise and involvement, the facts that the first Mexican wave of the proceedings occurred after 25 minutes and – closer to home – two members of the McDonnell family retired to bed shortly after the second stanza began.