Thursday, 3 February 2011
I watched in despair the first twenty minutes of the England - Ireland game at Twickenham last February as a game of kick tennis unfolded which bore little resemblance to the passion fuelled encounters of yesteryear. Where was the early argy-bargy, the fierce initial encounters at the ruck and the huge tackles. Although the game improved there was about as much tension in the early stages as watching the Blue Peter Tortoise eating a piece of lettuce.
So on to this year and all the signs suggest that we should expect much more this year. The Autumn Internationals produced some cracking rugby and I just hope that we continue to see some real ambition in how each side approaches the tournament. Pace, power, precision combined with the aforementioned ambition may just provide the necessary mix for a special tournament to develop over the next few months. Hopefully tomorrow's encounter in Cardiff will set the tone and we can only hope that the shackles are loosened and both sides really go for it. We might then remember the game for the right reasons rather than just as a result of it being the first and possibly last ever Friday night match in the Six Nations.
There of course should also be the added buzz of being in a World Cup year and there are some major psychological gains and losses to be had both from a team and individual perspective. Form and performance levels through the Six Nations will have a major bearing on the World Cup with progression and development being very much on the agenda. Added interest will surely come from the fact that this year it is extremely difficult to predict who will emerge as likely winners of the tournament. While I think a Grand Slam is unlikely this year, it is not out of the question that the Ireland v England game in Dublin on the final weekend might just be a decider for the Slam. England have been installed as favourites for the tournament with France and Ireland at 5-2 and 3-1 respectively.
With the commercial value of the tournament very much on the up it is interesting to note the financial incentives now in place. With around £10m prize money available, the RFU are offering a £500,000 bonus to the England Squad if they can secure a Grand Slam and £250,000 if they secure the title.
If as an England supporter things do not go well tomorrow you can always watch Chris Ashton's IRPA International Try of the Year against Australia and remember the heady days of what we all thought was an England revival!