My highly-anticipated schedule yesterday involved attending the 3.00pm Harlequins’ LV= Cup match against Leicester Tigers at the Stoop and then dashing home to watch the Six Nations second team clash between England Saxons and Irish Wolfhounds, kick-off 5.00pm on Sky Sports 2.
In the end it turned into a Grade A disaster.
My habitual Stoop routine is to bomb down to Twickenham, park up in one of the ‘toast rack’ streets off the Green – nip for a ‘sharpener’ or two in the Sussex Arms – and walk to the ground with about half an hour to go.
Yesterday it all went pear-shaped.
For the first time ever, there was not a parking space (even half-squeezed onto a pavement) to be had anywhere in the vicinity of the Green. After twenty minutes spent in fruitless search, with cool detachment, I weighed up my options and abandoned the Quins game entirely. This may seem a foolhardy decision for a season ticket holder and committed fan to take, but it was the right one. Instead of a hurried visit to the Stoop and then a desperate drive in Saturday afternoon traffic just to get home in time for the Saxons kick-off, I could relax, dawdle on the way home and take up residence on the sofa at my leisure for the main course.
Every omen for the Saxons match was positive. England were fielding a raft of bright young things on the cusp of making either the Six Nations squad at some point and/or England’s tough tour of New Zealand this summer. Against them the Irish team, boasting 87 full caps to England’s 8, would provide a stern test.
In the event, things again turned out not quite as planned.
The weather played its part. Hooking in to Quins radio coverage on my laptop at home (a 20-6 victory as it happened), I found myself listening in disbelief as the commentators described the mother and father of all storms descending with ten minutes to go … advertising hoardings coming loose and being blown across the pitch, stewards leaping in to shepherd endangered spectators away from the stands, the referee herding the players to the safety of the middle of the pitch … and then the abandonment of the game.
At Kingsholm (Gloucester’s home ground), the pitch for the Saxons match was windswept and near-waterlogged. Ireland’s battle-hardened warriors grabbed the ascendancy with pragmatic tactics and sheer physicality.
Few players performed to their reputations. First culprit was fly-half Freddie Burns, below par this season in a poorly-performing Gloucester side, but who had been given a big build-up by Sky Sports during the week, implying that he could burst into Six Nations contention.
He failed the audition, missing penalties, failing to get his line going and just generally looked out of sorts.
He wasn’t the only one – all across the pitch, players fluffed their lines.
Of the Quins identified by me as tips for the top, Quins flanker Luke Wallace stood rooted to the spot as Ireland’s scrum half Isaac Boss sliced through after just five minutes for Ireland’s first try and seemed generally out-muscled at the breakdown.
Lock Charlie Matthews was anonymous and substituted at half-time, as was centre Matt Hopper. Only our hooker Dave Ward made an impression after coming off the bench.
Of the others, Exeter Chiefs’ centre Sam Hill received a bang on the nose early on when dropping off a tackle and retired hurt.
The only rays of sunshine were provided by Wasps’ Elliot Daly, who began at full back and ended at centre, and Northampton Saints’ Sam Dickinson, who stood out after coming on in the second half.
Overall, however Ireland were good value for, and not flattered by, their 14-8 win.
I’m afraid that for England it was another case of ‘back to the drawing board’.
Hopefully, my Sunday will be less disappointing.