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Like any property professional, I’m looking for a return on investment. OK, with England it’s emotional rather than financial but I’m certainly interested in whether Johnno reckons he’s getting a decent yield from his assets or whether he has plans to reshape his portfolio heading into the World Cup.
Let’s not make the mistake of judging England’s tournament or their progress by one result in Dublin. They didn’t show up in Ireland and weren’t allowed to claw back their errors, a slow start, and their poor estimation of the opponent. But I’m interested in the Championship as a whole and where this leaves the sides in the lead up to the big one in New Zealand.
Would we have taken the title at the start? Absolutely we would. Johnno has met his objectives (as set by new England CEO John Steele who is also a surveyor by background) and there is no doubt this side is moving in the right direction. Did England merit a Slam? No, not in my view. You cannot be so evidently second best – as we were against Ireland – and expect any favours. The table never lies!
Something that does concern me – from my own back row playing perspective! – is where the weakness sits in this England side. It’s in the loose and in the contact. Look at where we’ve been done over in the last three problem games and you’ll see the trend. South Africa, Scotland and, most recently, Ireland bested us because they nailed us in contact. They delivered the physicality and commitment to secure their own ball and to disrupt ours. In contrast, England often got the numbers wrong, putting too many or too few people into contact and, consequently, struggled to make space out wide or get the ball moving fast enough.
In modern rugby, this department is critical. Look at the Tournament as a whole and you’d have to say that all of the stand out players have been back row masters. From O’Brien and Harinordoquy to Parisse and Warburton, these have been the MVPs, snaffling, spoiling and securing ball and it’s those interventions that turn matches. England’s back row has been OK but not great. Heading to the World Cup, there is a lot of work to do to get it firing and to ensure that all of the English forwards are bang on song. Opposition teams will have done their homework. If we don’t improve in this department, it will be our undoing down under.
Looking at more positive aspects, you have to admire the way that a young side with relatively few caps has handled itself. I’ve been impressed with Youngs and Flood, with our back three and with Hartley at No 2. There have been moments of maturity and signs of the ability to make the big game decisions – for a young team, this is encouraging. When we won in 2003, every rugby fan became more than familiar with T-CUP (Thinking Clearly Under Pressure). That’s what we need heading to New Zealand and, with this side, I think we can achieve it. ‘Body on fire, head in the fridge’ as my old pal Lawrence Dallaglio says.
Can we win it again? No doubt, but it will take one hell of an effort. This side has come a long way since 2010’s Six Nations tournament but must step on the gas to make the changes needed to be World Cup winners. If Johnno can wring out that rate of improvement over the next few months, great stuff. My assessment is that England could do it but, right now, you’d be a brave man to bet on it.
Looking across the rest of the tournament, there have been some cracking games and certainly some shocks. Who would have expected the French to fall in Rome? That result reaffirms the rise of Italy by whom I’ve been impressed. Under Nick Mallet, they continue to emerge as a force and I take my hat off to them. Let’s not forget that, aside from a duff performance against England, they nearly did for Wales and certainly didn’t give Ireland an easy ride. Good tournament for the Azurri.
The French always entertain me. Are they an asset I’d like under my management? Yes, but for the fun of it not a safe and certain investment. They played some of the best rugby in the tournament but also displayed the maddest management from Lievremont. Very interesting that the crowd showed such solidarity with the players at Stade de France in the final game. I wouldn’t have expected that from their notoriously fickle support. Key question – are they moving forwards? Maybe, but the jury is out.
No need for a jury for Andy Robinson. It’s clear his side is going backwards and another foot of the table berth is not what the Autumn heralded. There are problems north of the border and it’s going to take more than inspiration and perspiration from committed players to compensate. It could well be a long trip to Dunedin for the Scots and a very long trip home again!
Ireland will take a lot of confidence from the England result leaving players looking forwards but fans looking confused. How many ‘if onlys’ will have been muttered across the Isle? Ireland played a bit part Six Nations. Can they step up for the World Cup? No, not in my view. Again, I’d be far from surprised to see them put in a stonking game but I genuinely would fall off my chair if they put back to back performances together to get to the Final.
‘Stuttering’ is my word for the Welsh. Glimpses of quality but moments of weakness too, not least in the fragility of their squad which has too little depth to be any real danger down under.
When the players get onto the planes heading to New Zealand, I’ll be full of optimism but anxious too. I don’t expect to see a Northern Hemisphere winner to be honest. But, if Johnno can show us property boys that he knows a thing or two about asset management, who knows? He’ll just need to get his little portfolio fine tuned in double quick time and that, I fear, is a task beyond even his impressive powers.
I’m 12 from 15 for this Six Nations so not bad. Mr G takes the Property Week bubbly for his punditry.
To the World Cup we turn….
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
Big game this one. Bigger than last week – and that was a big game. But, big though it is, the next competitive one will be bigger. That will be for the World Cup. Now that is big!
Get my point? Test match rugby is always about big games. Every game matters. Every 80 minutes is about handling the pressure, expressing your talent, imposing your will and getting the right result. Manage that and you are a great side. A ‘big occasion’ side. Choke, and you’re just another half decent team that had a shot at something big and will be forgotten. That’s the opportunity and the risk that lies ahead for England as they head to Dublin.
The tournament has certainly saved the best until last in terms of tension and three evenly balanced fixtures that really could go either way. It’s going to make fascinating viewing. I reckon this weekend’s games are the hardest to call of the bunch – and that’s not just me hedging. Everyone has something massive to play for, from pride to a winner’s medal, and in a World Cup year, the stakes are even higher.
England have got interesting form against Ireland in championship deciders. We’ve whopped them and we’ve been whacked too. This time, I have the feeling we’ll come away with the win. Why? Because I think we will learn from the Scotland game and, overall, we have more talent, more cohesion, and more ability to stand up to the big game test. We got bullied by Scotland in the loose, just as we were by South Africa in the Autumn Internationals, but I think the English forwards – and the side as a whole – will respond. Youngs and Flood are smart players. They will have learned from the Scottish onslaught and will be better for it. For sure, we will miss wise heads like Tindall and Ireland possess some cracking big match players of their own but, when you combine playing ability with playing heads, England have the more complete package.
I also think our scrum and lineout are robust. Platforms provide match-winning opportunities. If England get the biff right in the loose as well as rev up the well-oiled machine in the tight, that will give us the platform to get the job done. I’m calling an England win by 4-6 points.
In Paris, where Wales have shown some sharp form in recent seasons, they’ll have to fire up the flair more than they did in Cardiff. I don’t think the point of playing Hook is for him to give you a carbon copy of Stephen Jones! They must get the ball moving and show some ambition if they are to make an impact.
They’ve got every opportunity of course. Lievremont sides always give the oppo opportunity! I think Wales will pose a threat but they’ll also be up against a French side with plenty to prove. Not least that they’re not cowards (as described by their coach!) France could easily cut loose but could – we’ve seen it before – just as easily crumble. With a better balanced back row though and the home advantage, I’m calling France by 6-9 points.
France will be hoping for some better refereeing too. That was a theme of last weekend and the Irish would certainly agree! How France didn’t get a penalty for scrum offences in the last few minutes is anybody’s guess. Only referee Bryce Lawrence has the answer and some might suggest that was the promise of a tidy Tuscan retirement with no need to buy any drinks! But that might be harsh. I think he was simply being romantic in Rome and succumbed to the temptations of giving the Azurri something special to celebrate.
Murrayfield is getting a little too used to being the wooden spoon stage. Not what fervent Scots would have aspired too after their promising Autumn. But there it is. Rugby can be a cruel game.
Ironically, both sides come to the game with confidence high. Scotland after a proud performance at Twickenham and Italy with a special scalp hanging from their belt (which has only sported Thistles and Leeks before!) I’m predicting a home win. Italy will struggle to peak twice within a week and Scotland simply cannot afford to lose. I’m going for Scotland by 3-6 points.
If all of these calls come in, I’ll be 13 from 15 so not bad – but many a slip betwixt cup and lip. Big weekend, big games, big calls. But that’s what we love in property isn’t it? The biggest, the best and the ballsiest. It’s what our industry thrives on.
Thanks for reading. Hoped you’ve enjoyed it.
My calls for this weekend are:
England to beat Ireland by 4-6 points.
France to beat Wales by 6-9 points.
Scotland to beat Italy by 3-6 points.
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
Martin Johnson and Andy Robinson must feel like they are two men in parallel universes. The problem for Scotland is that, while Johnno is firmly looking forward, Robbo is desperately looking back.
Just as England are growing in confidence game by game – and thoughts are even now starting to turn from Six Nations to World Cup – so too Scotland are fading and wondering ‘where did that Autumn International form all go wrong?’ Rugby can be cruel that way. That’s why momentum, as I have written before, really is so important.
I’m writing this on a gloriously sunny spring day and maybe that, and a cracking Wasps win at the weekend, are raising the spirits! Sunshine outside the window makes me think of sunshine rugby and, if it’s blue skies at Twickenham on Sunday, I think England will be set fair!
If, as I hope, we have conditions for open, running rugby, then I think Johnno’s men will be putting the pressure on from the off and I can’t see Scotland living with that. Robbo will be doing the rain dance because that’s all Scotland can do to promote parity. English memories will recall sludge fests in the Murrayfield mud with no fondness at all.
Again, looking at recent Wasps comparisons, we beat Sale on Sunday because we could play our attacking game at Adams Park on a firm pitch with a dry ball. We came unstuck in the games before because we couldn’t play to the weather as well as the oppo. Weather genuinely is a leveller.
Looking at the line-ups, you have to fancy England from 1 to 15. Sure, Scotland have a back row which can hold its own in comparison with the world’s best sides but not much beyond that. England also have the advantage of a great team ethos and cracking spirit: playing for each other, doing their jobs and making their individual contributions for the greater good. I’m loving watching that and I simply can’t see how Scotland bring enough to upset that superiority.
I think Flood will start and I think he should. He brings a greater attacking edge and has shown he can break lines and create moves for masters of exploitation like Ashton to enjoy. I expect we will see Wilkinson off the bench though as Johnno continues to show – and prove – that today’s top-level rugby is a 20-man game. Our own Shawsy is one who is working to win a bench place not a start and when you can look to players of that class as subs, you know you are blessed.
I was reading this week that Courtney Lawes is close to a comeback too. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but we’ve hardly missed him. That angst when he got crocked in the Autumn has melted away as players like Palmer have stepped in. That’s what England have now – strength in depth, class across the piece and a mentality and game plan that maximises collective potential. Reassuring indeed.
To the forecast then – and the score not the weather this time. I’m saying England by 12-15 points. Each game must be played on its merits and boy how much would Scotland like to put one over on the Sassenachs but I can’t see it happening. I’m looking forward to my trip to Twickenham on Sunday – beats MIPIM any day!
In the Clash of the Celts, it’s a case of whether defences will be set in stone and which side will keep its head. Both teams have shown in this tournament that they can be good, but they’ve made some poor errors too. Ireland concede too many penalties and Wales can’t seem to get any real direction into their attacking game. I was talking to Warren Gatland and he reckoned Wales would prefer to be playing the French than the Irish in terms of confidence about getting the result and that tells you something – Wales do seem to play better on the bigger stages.
Our Prime Minister was in Cardiff last weekend beating the drum for innovation and enterprise. Now that may be OK in some areas but what both of these teams need is discipline and staying awake – that’s the catalyst for results in Six Nations speak
Are you allowed to predict a draw in Six Nations? I’m not sure so I won’t and I’ll get off the fence. Wales to win by less than three points – home advantage making that narrowest of differences.
Will France come roaring back in Rome? I suspect so. There’s a tournament to compete for and these are proud players. Lievremont’s failings are many and obvious – the selection policy against England was quite simply baffling and he has done it again by leaving out Domingo and Harinordoquy. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Italy will ship points (again, the more so if under sunny skies). Lievremont is not being helped by those managing him either. Word is that the French RFU has already told him his contract won’t be renewed post World Cup. Which motivational manual did they read that in? Come to think of it, more Manuel than manual in Fawlty French Towers!
Italy, as I said last week, did put some pride back in the shirt against Wales but I think their tournament is bunga bunga-ed. No joy for them that I can see this Saturday. I’m picking the French by 9-12 points.
So, back to those parallel universes. In the week that saw the Space Shuttle take its last ever flight, I’m hoping for some blast off from this England side. Please make it so Johnno. If not, it’s back down to earth with the most almighty of bumps!
My calls for this weekend are:
• England to beat Scotland by 12-15 points.
• Wales to beat Ireland by less than 3 points.
• France to beat Italy by 9-12 points.
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
Bish, bash, bosh! From that first snap and drive in the scrum to Foden’s surge for the line, it was power play at its best and I loved it!
This was England doing what they do really well. Hitting a game plan, grabbing a match by the scruff of the neck and converting opportunities into points when they are on offer. And that’s not to mention one of the most robust and resolute defensive displays I’ve seen in a long time. Lots to be positive about and on we march.
I was hugely impressed. The forwards manufactured the platform, the backs created and used space well, French attacks were largely snaffled out at source and, when there were setbacks – like Sheridan’s early injury – they were overcome. This side has a maturity and confidence which is evident and growing.
The first half was certainly edgy and I’m more than happy to confess that I spent much of the opening 40 minutes tight with a mixture of anticipation and fear. It was a game with a big build up and a big prize, so no surprises that the opening skirmishes were lively and that not everything clicked at the start. England seemed to want to over-play and force the issue in some areas. Unforced errors scuppered moves and momentum. When the sides turned around at nine points apiece – and all penalties – that was a fair reflection in my view. I did have some Yachvili nightmare flashbacks though when that equalising pen went over on half time!
Whatever Johnno said at the break was bang on. Out came England to step on the gas and raise the intensity even further. The French couldn’t live with it, Foden blasted through a gap as the defence dropped off tackles, and the game-changing score was made. That’s a mark of class from a side which is heading in the right direction.
On the subject of which, how about old ‘Golden Balls’ Wilkinson’s entry onto the big stage? That guy has certainly got it! Cool as you like, 48 metres from the posts, “thwack” and it’s three more points. He seems to have been around forever but vintage Wilkinson is well worth his place in any side in my opinion. That’s what ‘using your bench’ is all about.
I should also say a word about Corbisiero. He certainly leapt off the bench to make an impact again – and in a tough old front row face off. The French 1-3 haven’t lost a game when they’ve played together so you’re talking about a serious test of any international prop and I thought Corbisiero did tremendously. As Johnno said afterwards, it was something of a blessing he had the game time against Italy and he looks like one to watch for the future alongside Palmer who simply gets better and better with every game. Locks were never first to charge down the full back in my day!
The England centres have taken a bit of a battering in the national press. From my perspective, I’m more than happy with players doing their jobs and the simple things well. You don’t need 15 flair boys to win a rugby match. You need a blend and a balance and that’s what Tindall and Hape give this side. Ashton, Foden and Cueto can pull the moves. I like what they’re doing – especially in defence where I thought they were both excellent – so they get my vote to start against Scotland in two weeks.
As for Ireland, they proved that they can still score tries and still make life very difficult for themselves too! Why that game went down to the wire is anybody’s guess. I’m just hoping they don’t get their discipline right just in time for England’s visit to Dublin!
In Rome, both sides played decent rugby and Italy certainly put some pride back into the shirt. Credit to them for making it a tight game and – if you are being kind – being within a ball bounce of making it very interesting indeed!
So, I’m eight from nine now. How about you? We’re getting to the business end of the tournament and this is where it gets really interesting!
For those of you heading off to do a different type of business in Cannes, best wishes for a successful MIPIM. It’s not quite the location for doing big business rates deals so I’ll be back in Blighty but keeping an eye on things. For those travelling, it must be good to be doing so with an English win under the belt!
I’ll be back next week with my predictions for England v Scotland and the rest of Weekend Four.
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
Big game build ups tell you a lot about a side don’t they? With Saturday’s England v France game not only billed as the Grand Slam and Six Nations decider – but also all about who goes to New Zealand as Northern Hemisphere ‘Top Dogs’ – the pressure is starting to get to people.
I’ve never been a great fan of Lievremont but now I’m confused by his chat as much as I usually am by his selections. Bit odd to go off on one about us ‘Rosbifs’ and take a hefty swipe at good old English heritage. It speaks volumes for how people react to pressure and it’s something that fascinates me as both a sportsman and a Chief Executive.
What can you say to get the best out of people? How do you fire people up to help them exceed even their own expectations? How can you calm them when fear threatens to cramp their capability? All fascinating stuff and I’ve been impressed by Johnno’s response. No point opening your mouth when you’ve nothing to add. No point engaging in the debate when that will only help your opponent. “Action is eloquence”, as the old Bard said, and who better to define the essence of Englishness. The stage is certainly set for England to express themselves and do their talking on the pitch. Best way in my opinion.
This England side is looking good to me. Its got confidence, heads into the game off the back of a thumping win over Italy and has the benefit of the Twickenham factor too. Our pack looks up to the task, the scrum and lineout are working well, ball handling and decision making is good and that’s not even to mention the Ashton advantage. He is quite simply a nightmare to pick up defensively and that has to be worrying a side that’s shipped six tries already in the tournament.
When I look at France, I see a great back three but not much balance in the backs overall. Sure, they will compete up front and I expect that to be a pretty even contest but I have the feeling our centres – with back row support and ‘Mad Dog’ Moody back in the fold – will smother their attacking options when we are defending and will run smarter and better lines when we are on the front foot. It will certainly be fascinating with not much in it but I would genuinely be surprised if England don’t win by 3-6 points.
To revisit the subject of talking – one I know a good deal about! – we have a wonderful record of winding up the French where it counts: on the field and ideally within penalty goal kicking range. I think back to exponents like Brian Moore, a best in class example of how to rile a fiery French front row.
And what about Micky Skinner for old time’s sake – take that Eric Champ! I’d be amazed if we don’t see some sharp and spiky banter on Saturday and I can only see that working to England’s advantage.
Over in Rome, you have two sides on very different trajectories. Wales are on the up following a hard fought win in Edinburgh and Italy must be licking their wounds and wondering whether their Prime Minister or their rugby is the greater source of national embarrassment. If Hook is given the platform to perform again – as I expect he will be – I’m predicting more tries out wide for Williams and Co. Can’t see anything other than a Wales win here and I think it will be by a clear 12-15 points.
And what of Murrayfield and those ‘eloquent’ Jocks who are all too keen to join the chorus when the jibes are directed at England? I think they are in for another beating. Ireland will travel with the momentum because they moved on massively in the 80 minutes against France from their poor opening against Italy.
Scotland – with injuries and battered confidence – will be looking for some kind of inspiration (from players or coach Robinson) and I just can’t see where they’ll find it. I’m picking the Irish by 7-10 points.
Over at Adams Park, it’s been a busy week and thanks for the interest there. Rest assured my legs are staying well away from the tracksuit trousers and we’ll have more news on a far more capable coach than me to report shortly. We’ve also had a good time ribbing Lawrence over his Desert Island Discs. Hardly a connoisseur’s choice but at least his list wasn’t loaded with 70s classics like mine would be!
Come on England. Time to step forward and express yourselves. Let your deeds define you and let’s see what Lievremont has to say about that!
My calls for this weekend:
- England to beat France by 3-6 points
- Ireland to beat Scotland by 7-10 points
- Wales to beat Italy by 12-15 points.
Weekend Two Review
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
You have to love rugby don’t you? Three cracking games, three really interesting results, and now it’s two weeks until this already lip-smacking fayre will be spiced up even more!
I didn’t see that Wales win in Edinburgh coming nor the way the Scots played and failed to take forward the promise of Paris. I talked last week about momentum. Scotland’s has trickled away. Wales’s has come roaring back. Anything to do with Andy Robinson’s new contract I wonder? Plenty of precedents would suggest that had a hand in it, whether consciously or subconsciously because we have all seen cases of post-contract ‘coasting’ – remember Capello in South Africa for one!
My summing up of the weekend is that England surprised, Scotland disappointed and Ireland frustrated.
From an English perspective, I was certainly hoping for the flair I mentioned last week but I didn’t expect to see so many scores nor so many Ashton Splashdowns. Flood and Co hit a rich vein and some of the stuff on display was simply scintillating. There was movement, outstanding support running, real attacking edge and quality application throughout the side. The pedant in me will say that there were still too many penalties and unnecessary errors for this England team to be considered ‘World Class’ but I have to say that I am feeling more and more positive about the direction we are headed.
Word is that Corbisiero was pretty useful in his ‘initiation singing’ as well as in the front row where he fronted up well against some grizzled Italian opposition. On top of having a good game, he apparently dumbfounded his teammates with some Jay Z style rapping and moves that had everyone sitting up and taking note. He’s a New Yorker so I guess it follows but the best we used to be able to muster was more like a croaky rendition of ‘New York, New York’ and be done with it!
Back to Murrayfield and all credit to the Welsh. Under pressure, Gatland has bitten back and his side has stood up. They destroyed the Scots forwards and I have to say that Scotland’s scrum was an embarrassment – they were annihilated in the tight. What’s more, while Wales ran from deep and with purpose, Scotland were so slow and sideways that they struggled to break the gain line and apply any real pressure or penetration. Jamie Roberts was back doing what he does best. Hook looked the part. Little wizard Williams notched again – it was like watching an engine start up after a long cold winter in the garage and splutter back to life.
So much improved was Wales’ back row play that the Wasps part of me is a little concerned for Andy Powell’s ability to get back in the side. He’s a top player though so that’s the challenge Gatland and any coach wants – picking players on form when spoilt for choice. I’m delighted for Shaun Edwards too. He had that Wales defensive line smothering and smashing up into the Scots who had no answer to it. A cracking example of aggressive defence with the rewards clear for all to see.
Across in Dublin – perhaps the best game of the weekend for tension and excitement – I felt sorry for the Irish. As others have said, you have to hand it to them for outscoring a decent French side three tries to one, but then you have to say that it was naive to lose the game too. That’s what I mean by ‘frustrated’ in my summary comments.
Ireland were so close to taking a notable scalp and they certainly stepped up big style from that languid performance in Rome. I liked the scrap and charge, I liked Heaslip bossing it around the base, I liked the overall physicality, but what can you say when a side keeps making errors? It’s the stuff to drive coaches mad and, by leaving the door just a wee bit ajar, Ireland paid the price when France came barging back through it at the end. Good show Ireland but some remedial work needed on closing out your opportunities and closing out a game. There will be ‘what ifs’ a plenty fuelling many a Guinness and game conversation across Dublin. The brutal reality, however, is that ‘what ifs’ don’t win you games and it’s points that count not tries.
So, here’s looking forward to this Six Nations stew really coming to the boil in a couple of weeks. Big games ahead and big opportunities too. I’ll be back with my thoughts and predictions next week. I’m still five from six so not bad! Keep your views coming – it’s tasty stuff all round!
Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.
Success breeds success. Ask any player what makes them feel confident and comfortable heading into the big match occasion and they’ll all tell you it’s playing well and winning games. When you’re up for it, you can’t get enough or get it soon enough.
So good news that it’s another Six Nations fest this weekend – and then Valentine’s Day on Monday. The English and French squads and their coaches will be feeling good – and I reckon the Scots will be pretty mad for it too. Tasty fixtures to take a look at this weekend: a wounded Wales travel to Murrayfield, England host Italy and, perhaps the most enticing of all, the French trot out in Dublin.
Let’s start with some reflections on Cardiff – what a belter that was! Arguably England never looked like losing and I, for one, was impressed by so much good work in the tight. What joy to see English forwards rumbling and rampaging again! Critics might say that while there was plenty of power, flair was in scant supply but I’d say there’s time to get that right.
I was hugely impressed by Tom Wood (playing my old position but faster and smarter!) and by the way England shut down and smothered the Welsh. When they did have the ball, it was usually going sideways and Mike Phillips’ frustration was there for all to see. Johnno, with his delayed ‘rollickings” will no doubt be asking his backs coaches to add some silk alongside the already evident steel. I think that will come. This is a young side and it is building momentum.
Will the French have packed their kit bags for Dublin with whatever was in there last week? We shall see. I thought they showed some of their sublime best in moments at the Stade de France. When they are on the rails like that, they’re very easy on the eye if not the oppo! But Scotland? Not bad either.
That’s a definite B+ performance and I’m getting twitchy about pegging them for fifth in the tournament. They should do better if they play every match like they played in Paris.
Ireland look like they don’t know how to recapture the spirit of old. OK, they were missing some big guns last week but it simply shows the thinness of the squad and they were lucky to get away from Rome with the win.
O’Gara was the one man who responded to the pressure. The rest of the Irish looked like they were going to blow a gasket as Italian persistence resulted in poor decision-making and poor execution.
So, what can we expect this weekend? Game of the weekend has to be Murrayfield for me. Wales have everything to prove and must really be hurting. Scotland will be fired up to be back home and fancying their chances. Scotland also have the momentum – there was plenty to take from that performance in Paris – and Wales’ momentum is 180 degrees the other way. No-one wants to clock a double-figure losing sequence!
Far be it for me to tempt fate – three from three with one ‘perfect’ call in the Wales v England game – but I see this as a nailed on Scots win. Scotland are decent in their own back yard so I’m predicting more pain for the Welsh. Jocks to win by 7 points (especially now Wasps’ Andy Powell looks to be out with a shoulder injury).
Ireland is the mystery of the weekend. On the ‘Enchanted Isle’, the home side will be looking for that touch of magic or quicksilver to get their season back on track. If it does click for the Irish and the French fail to travel (not in an airport strike kind of way!), well who knows? But my head is saying this is a French win by 7-10 points.
England bring their momentum home to Twickenham and I can’t see the Italians knocking Johnno’s men off their stride. Italy should bring some tight five vigour and they certainly know how to front up for a good old fashioned forwards slug fest – but I don’t think they’ll have enough to keep a lid on England for 80 minutes. Will England bring it all to the boil? Big question.
I’d love to see Flood bossing it again and using the time he’ll have against ‘inferior’ backs this week to unlock space and cut the back three loose. If that happens, we’ll have good reason to expect flair and even some swagger. That would be nice, especially if this side is going to start sending the right messages out ahead of the World Cup. Champions need that touch of arrogance.
The result? I’m saying England by 6-9 points.
I’m liking the look of this weekend more and more. The stage is set, teams are on the move, and points are there to take – and there to make too!
My calls for this weekend are:
Scotland to beat Wales by 7 points.
England to beat Italy by 6-9 points.
France to beat Ireland by 7-10 points.
Mark Rigby is Chairman of London Wasps and a 25-year veteran of the commercial property industry.
So, is that supposed to be good enough?
No, I’m not talking about my predictions for this year’s Championship (less said about that the better) but the more substantial question of whether England have, over 400 minutes of rugby, given us anything to get excited about? I fear not. It’s not even a ‘must try harder’ end of term report from me. It’s more fundamental than that. It’s ‘go back to basics, work out what you are good at, and apply yourself with purpose’.
The lack of any progress from the England side over five games was troubling. Even more so because of Johnno’s volte-face in Paris and the introduction of a stack of new players. Is there a game plan or not? Is there a vision for this side? A roadmap? Call it what you will, I can’t see it and I doubt anyone who’s not wearing rose tinted glasses can either.
It’s hard to feel any emotion other than disappointment. Third place in the Championship is poor. The way it was achieved all the poorer. Sadly, there is no formal review mechanism for the England set up between now and the World Cup.
I find that amazing.
In business, you would never get away with that. We are all accountable and, if performance is sub par, we get rapped, moved or, worse, given the old 'heave ho'.
I don’t see how the England management team and set up can or should escape such censure. To progress, something has to change and I would start by looking at Wells and Smith, I have to say.
Here’s another way of looking at it. Have you seen anyone pick English players in their ‘team of the tournament’ or had that chat down the pub? I haven’t and I can’t see how anyone could say that, from six sides, England had the stand out player in any given position. Says it all really. In 2003, we would have been three quarters of the side! Now, we all appreciate that there are cycles and sides have ups and downs, but the depth of this down gives me a problem. I am a long way south of comfortable.
Is there a glimmer of hope? Well, the ‘stat boys’ will reassure you that, of the home nations, England has the best record of actually winning games down under. Perhaps we can build on that in New Zealand? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
A quick word on the rest of the Home Nations.
Ireland – they can’t be happy. Champions who did not fill their boots and seem to be going backwards. Good execution but not strong or savvy enough overall.
Wales – they suffer through lack of depth. A great potential starting 15 but without the key players all fit, they aren’t strong enough. This showed itself over the Six Nations and, for me, the Welsh showed the best touches – as well as the worst – of the tournament.
Scotland – I was a pretty big buyer of the ‘Jocks’ before the Championship kicked off. Bit too optimistic. There are signs of progress, especially with the win in Dublin, but I don’t think either Andy Robinson or the supporters will be happy with fifth – nor with losing to Italy!
As for Italy themselves, I think it's hard to see exactly what they've achieved during this Championship. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Nick Mallett gives his end of tournament review to the Italian Federation. That could be tasty! And France, well Grand Slam and you can't say any fairer or more than that.
And some reflections:
Highlight – easy, Shane Williams side stepping his way to Welsh glory versus Scotland at the Millennium. Timing, pace, the mark of a truly world-class player. You know how to pick your moments Shane!
Game of the tournament – has to be the Wales v Scotland game. The best and most exciting six minutes of rugby I have seen in a long, long time! Pure drama and fantastic entertainment. Everything our game needs to make it a success. I’m still baffled why the ‘Jocks’ didn’t kick the re-start dead though.
Issue of the tournament – the scrums. A great innovation from the BBC to run a scrum clock but with painful results. Refs are really struggling and something has to be done. You can’t have a quarter of the game taken up with 16 men trying to pack down and re-start (as we did with Scotland v England). Where’s the value for spectators? No wonder they tune out and hit the bars. Refs have to get stronger. It’s their responsibility (the laws are there) and they must get firmer and quicker at making decisions. Scrum tedium was a black mark on this tournament.
Lowlight – Steve Borthwick’s post-match interview after the Italy game. Honesty has always been integral to the rugby code. His comments were a joke and an insult to one of the game’s most precious values. Shame.
So, that’s it for another year. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. It’s been fun and I have enjoyed the banter and the comments.
Good luck to everyone for 2010. Here’s hoping we all see ‘progress’ whatever we are doing.
So the saying goes. Now, I don’t know Mrs Martin Johnson but, based on Johnno’s reaction to the Murrayfield stalemate and his bold changes for Paris, you would have to say she should be pretty tidy.
I suspect I was not alone in being thoroughly bored by events in Edinburgh. Little to get the blood boiling save frustration. But at last, it seems, the shackles have come off and Johnno has made some punchy changes. That he has seems somewhat out of kilter with his tedious statements about ‘building a team over time’ and ‘progressing’. If the truth be told, I think there was no other option. Change was due, change is here, let’s see what it holds. There is no finer test nor stage than Paris!
I think Toby Flood will bring more attacking options into the side, I think Worsley made his mark at Murrayfield (even if others didn’t) and it’s right that he stays, and I think Foden offers more at 15 than Armitage. Ashton is the most interesting pick. He’s hot, for sure, and form is a great argument for inclusion but I think it’s a big ask to throw him in at Stade de France with the French pushing for the Grand Slam. Certainly a true test of character.
Where I think Johnno has missed a trick is in not making more of Lawes. Talking to Simon Shaw this week (who reminded me that he has never lost in Paris!) my feeling is that he and Lawes would be our most effective second row combination. Bulk blended with speed, age with experience, guile with enthusiasm – I would have liked to see more of that.
The French will be bang up for it – and what a finale! With a bit of spring sunshine (perhaps?) and a spring in their step (for sure), it will be a mighty first quarter. If they bring the professionalism they showed against Italy – and if England start to fall off tackles again – I think it will be a long and difficult afternoon. At last, the French have discovered consistency and, because of that and the overall talent of their settled match day 23, I am calling a home win by no less than 10.
So a Grand Slam then, but a springboard from which to move on to the World Cup? That’s the even bigger test. Maybe this side has peaked too soon. Only time will tell.
In Cardiff, I’m predicting a points fest. Not because I think Wales and Italy are particularly adept at incisive, try scoring rugby but rather because of the sieve-like nature of their defences and willingness to throw the ball away when they should recycle. I suspect the ball will move a lot and, come the end of 80 minutes, Wales will come out on top, winning by no less than 12. Something for the home supporters to shout about at the end of what has to be called a disappointing tournament. All those Lions but too few Six Nations points.
As for Ireland versus Scotland, I think we’ll see Ireland win by at least eight points. The conversion of chances that has been Ireland’s hallmark all tournament – as well as their class through the spine of the side – makes it hard to see Scotland getting any change out of this one. The ‘Jocks’ may take some comfort from their point against the Auld Enemy – and they will fight like mad to avoid the 'Wooden Spoon' – but I’m predicting more pain for poor old Andy Robinson. To judge by those images of him at Murrayfield last week, a lounger and some soothing hot towels cannot come soon enough. Watching him is almost enough to give you a heart attack!
So, the curtain gets ready to fall on another Six Nations tournament but the action is far from over. To borrow a phrase from our friends at Sky Sports, this really is going to be a ‘Super Saturday’ – and with the right shaped ball!
My predictions are:
France to beat England by no less than 10 points.
Wales to beat Italy by no less than 12 points.
Ireland to beat Scotland by at least 8 points.
APOLOGIES TO ALL OF MARK'S FANS AD READERS I MADE AN ERROR PUBLISHING THIS AND ONLY REALISED THIS MORNING. IAIN, WEB EDITOR.
Don’t you just love rugby? After so many matches, so many minutes of toil, and so many moments of exciting – and sometimes turgid – play, it all came down to just one kick. One drop-goal transformed the frustration of 60 years of failure into one great night of joy. Stringer, O’Gara, kick, flying dodo, whistle, points, Grand Slam.
Job done for the Irish and, with Jones unable to make his penalty kick count, hearts broken for the Welsh.
This result ensures that the 2009 Six Nations goes down in history as something special. I’m delighted for Declan Kidney and his side. Frankly, it was about time this generation delivered. But take nothing away from the men in green. They gave everything and they got over the line. They got home.
Aside from this outstanding achievement, you would have to say that this year’s Championship was otherwise light on quality. I remember just three games of any significant value in terms of entertainment or standard. The up and down French had a hand in two of them (versus Wales and versus Ireland) and, of course, the Wales versus Ireland games sits on the top of the pile.
I’m not here to cast judgement, merely to express an opinion, but I think Scotland and Italy will feel this campaign has left them no further forward. Johnno’s England get a B+. Some very average play mixed with moments of genuine promise.
Looking at England more closely, I think the first half at Twickenham last Saturday was top drawer. Quick out of the blocks, well executed moves, direct and intelligent play – all positive. Where we lost our way, and I think a symptom of this team’s as yet un-honed maturity – was in taking our foot off the gas and letting Scotland back into it. We invited pressure onto ourselves when a more hard-edged team would have kept the door firmly shut. Scotland had no penetration.
They never looked like scoring a try through any deliberately planned or creative game play. England’s ill discipline, however, crept back in and so, in turn, did Scotland. I was pleased to see the lads respond and open up some clear water again but why let a problem happen when you can avoid it?
Looking forward, I think England now have a number of ticks in the boxes marked ‘must do better’ after last year’s Autumn internationals. Brian Smith has clearly had an impact in the backs and there’s good stuff to build on. I think physicality and fitness will be big issues and we have to move up another level to equip ourselves to contend with the best in the world, namely the Southern Hemisphere sides.
But there’s hope here with this England side. There’s promise where before – certainly against Ireland and Italy – there was close to none.
No one will have forgotten that this is a Lions summer either. Having mentioned fitness and physicality, you need look no further than the current World Champions for the best in the business.
I’m really excited about the prospect of the tour but, some 14 years into the professional game, you have to question how a scratch side will shape up against a well-drilled bunch of world-beaters? The opening 20 minutes of the First Test are going to be huge. Whether it’s O’Connell or O’Driscoll that leads the side out – surely it will be either – it will be totally fascinating.
Returning to where we started in Cardiff though, I just wonder what might have been for Wales had Lee Byrne stayed on? The ELVs have made kicking, kick returning and kick defence an integral part of today’s game and I think Byrne’s departure opened the door for the Irish.
That and Gatland’s pre-match comments, of course, which made sure Ireland were about as fired up and ferocious as it’s possible to be. You could hear the front rows getting stuck in from my living room!
Let’s not take the gloss off a great Irish performance though and a wonderful achievement. All credit to the players whom many had said would choke. You did it, well done, the story’s yours to tell.
Lastly, a huge thanks to all of you that have read, commented on and contributed to my blog. It’s been great fun to do and I hope you have enjoyed it. The stats aren’t half bad either (14 games called from 15!) – nobody’s perfect! Enjoy the summer and enjoy the Lions tour.