In prospect I viewed the contrived denouement of the final round of the 2015 Six Nations on Saturday afternoon with mix of trepidation and nostalgia for the old days, i.e. when men were men and the Northern Hemisphere’s premier national tournament was what it was and not a rugby vehicle pandering to the broadcasters or anyone else. In the end, like all those I have talked to since, I just had to lie back and let the extraordinary scenes wash over me as if I was in a drunken stupor and/or having a nightmare fuelled by magic mushrooms. At the final whistle in the final match I felt as physically and mentally drained as if (at my age of sixty plus) I had played ten minutes in any of the matches played that day between 1230 and 1845 hours.
With the Harlequins enjoying some downtime – out of the LV= Cup and having no Premiership games to play because of the Six Nations – I am left with the self-imposed task of marking the contributions made by those Quins players on England international duty.
On the international stage I’m a Robshaw-sceptic, as is well known. His commitment, engine, work rate and yeoman service are indisputable but I don’t think he’s the best 7 available to England, or should I say ‘would be’, save for the RFU’s laudable but absurd refusal to consider anyone but those plying their trade in the English Premiership. Furthermore I like my captains to be dominant by nature, word and deed – e.g. Willie John McBride, Martin Johnson, Paul O’Connell and Richie McCaw – and here I’d love to be proved wrong [i.e. as a wimpish naysayer who got his excuses in first] but sadly I find it difficult to see Robshaw finishing as a Rugby World Cup-winning skipper come October.
Joe Marler (loose-head prop) is progressing well. Firstly, he’s toned down the haircuts and whacky behaviour. Secondly, in defiance of the traditional ‘front row union’ rules, he gets about the park like a mad thing and makes a bunch of open-play tackles and other contributions. Ten to fifteen percent more grunt at scrum-time and he’d kill forever the widely-perceived notion that he’d just keeping his spot warm for Northampton Saints’ Alex Corbisiero.
Mike Brown (full back) is getting back to his best. In the last two games, since returning from his concussion from being kayoed in the Italy game, he hasn’t quite been perfect under the high ball – as you would normally expect him to be – but his all-round play and aggression have cemented his position as Lancaster’s first-choice 15. Not for nothing is he known as ‘Mr Angry’ in the England camp and ‘Asbo’ at the Stoop. A number of influential people support the claims of Saracens’ Alex Goode. While Goode is undoubtedly a superior footballer, his defensive work is less secure and for this reason alone I’d pick Brown every time.
I am mightily hacked off with the way in which England have treated Nick Easter (Number 8). He was originally added to the squad halfway through the Six Nations because his outstanding form in the Premiership has caused Lancaster and his coaches to overlook his age (37 this summer) and indeed the fact that, immediately after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, they had told him he was too old to play for England ever again. In these circumstances – presumably they had picked him because he could still ‘do a job’ if a game’s situation demanded it – why on earth has he been sent onto the pitch for ten-to-fifteen minutes cameos towards the end of the matches against Italy, Scotland and France but never as a Number 8?!?! On each occasion they’ve asked him to replace a tiring or injured lock in the second row. This is plain stupid – akin to asking soccer’s Messi or Ronaldo to go and play in central defence or even in goal. If they’re not going to pick Nick Easter (of all people) to do what he does best – play at Number 8 – then why pick him at all? [Don’t’ get me wrong – I’m sure that Nick himself is delighted to get on the field and gain another England cap in any position they care to nominate, I’m just frustrated to the Nth degree that they don’t let him play in his own.]
Lastly, a word of sympathy for Danny Care. Call me one-eyed, but for me he’s the best scrum half in England bar none these past four seasons. Good luck to Leicester Tigers’ Ben Youngs, who scored two tries and won ‘Man of The Match against France – and indeed Richard Wigglesworth, Youngs’ back up – but it would be short-sighted (and a cruel irony for him personally) if Danny Boy didn’t get the chance to star in this year’s Rugby World Cup. And that’s not just a Quins fan talking … okay, well maybe it is.