Eddie Jones ought to have known better, that the rugby Gods have their own way of dealing with those deemed to have been too clever by half.
If all that gratuitous guff warning the French of ‘absolute brutality’ sounded crass before the match, it will sound a whole lot worse this morning now that an English Grand Slam has gone down the drain for the 16th time in 17 seasons.
Every country has had its share of stinkers down the years but it’s safe to say England have never had one like the first hour in Paris.
The only brutish effect inflicted by the odds-on favourites had been confined to the neon numbers on the scoreboard. A third French try had taken them 22 points clear with two more to come when the first overt sign of what might have passed vaguely for ‘absolute brutality’ provoked a free-for-all. It could not, by any stretch of the imagination, have been called heroic.
Substitute hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie skidded into the prone figure of Charles Ollivon, digging the try-scorer in the back with the cheapest of cheap shots. Referee, Nigel Owens, took a lenient view.
“Nobody wants to see stuff like that,” he told the captains. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not good for the game and if something like that happens again somebody will be in a lot of trouble.”
England already were, to such a depth that they were grateful for the small mercy of salvaging a losing bonus point from the last kick of the match. Had their head coach been wise before the event, he would have avoided using what one of his predecessors, Clive Woodward, condemned as ‘Stone Age’ language as if the World Cup runners-up had fallen into the pre-historic hands of Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble.
At times, it looked as though they had. Woodward, of course, found out in a horribly unforgettable way that sport’s most enduring annual international event does not take kindly to anyone taking anything for granted.
When Lawrence Dallaglio’s England led Wales 31-25 at a blazing Wembley in the final match of the final Five Nations with time almost up, an official deigned to take the trophy out of its wooden case in the Royal Box and a matching pair of white ribbons out of his pocket.
He was still in the act of tying them to the silver handles when a dubious penalty allowed Wales to unleash Scott Gibbs on his long run into folklore. Neil Jenkins’ conversion had no sooner torpedoed the English Slam than the trophy was back in its box ready for presentation to Scotland at Murrayfield the next morning.
Sean Lineen achieved more than a winning start to his Test career, for Scotland against Wales at Murrayfield in January 1989.
He set a global trend, one which continues to have a thumping impact on every Six Nations occasion.
By reversing his grandfather’s migration from the old world to the new, the pioneering centre blazed a trail, signposting an alternative route into the international arena for those passed over by the All Blacks. What Lineen started has become something of a cottage industry.
Back then, he could never have imagined Kiwis reinventing themselves on this side of the equator. Since the advent of the Six Nations, somewhere around 60 New Zealanders have followed Lineen to qualify for the home countries either through ancestry or residence.
The latest arrival, Johnny McNicholl, made a winning start for Wales just as another Scarlet Kiwi, Hadleigh Parkes, had done two seasons earlier. The original contingent, among them Jared Payne, Lesley Vainikolo, Shontayne Hape, Mike Mullins, and Tony Marsh, have been superseded on such a scale that five of the Six picked at least one over the weekend.
France were the exception but they found ample room instead for a pair of nomads from the High Veldt, Bernard Le Roux and Paul Willemse.
In that respect, Ireland felt the thin end of the wedge in Paris 30 years ago when Eric Melville appeared briefly off the bench to do for South Africans what Lineen began doing for New Zealanders.
There are now so many of both that in picking a Six Nations XV drawn from the two biggest tribes in the rugby jungle, some will have to bide their time behind these chosen few:
Jayden Hayward (Italy);
Johnny McNicholl (Wales),
Virimi Vakatawa (France),
Bundee Aki (Ireland),
Sean Maitland (Scotland);
Gareth Anscombe (Wales),
Willi Heinz (England);
Allan Dell (Scotland), Rob Herring (Ireland),
Willem Nell (Scotland);
Bernard Le Roux (France),
Paul Willemse (France);
Braam Steyn (Italy),
Sebastian Negri (Italy),
CJ Stander (Ireland).
Wales head for Dublin this week for a Test of where they stand in respect of winning a second straight Grand Slam.
The only team to take all five points from the opening round, they have already scored five tries, half as many as they managed throughout last year’s winning streak.
If Wayne Pivac goes for broke at The Aviva on Saturday, he will start with Nick Tompkins of Saracens.
His conversion from England Saxon to Welsh Dragon, made on the discovery that his grandmother was born in Wrexham, promises to give the Welsh midfield a passing quality which it hasn’t had for too long.
In less enlightened times, when referees sometimes made decisions on what they thought they had seen, Stuart Hogg would have got away with it, and Andy Farrell might have been swindled out of a winning start.
Without recourse to video evidence, referee Matthieu Raynal would have been stuck with the assumption that Hogg, the ball held in both hands and no green shirt in his path, must have touched it down.
Even the admirable Nick Mullins, commentating on ITV, said: “And Hogg scores.” Scotland’s captain must have known he hadn’t it, that he had dropped a monumental clanger.
If he did, it didn’t stop him reacting as though he hadn’t. Strangely, neither touch judge seemed to have seen the knock-on which was then shown on the big screen in all its gory detail, a triumph for the TMO.
The incident also raises a question which Rugby Union would once upon a time have expected as central to sense of fair play: Why didn’t Hogg go to the referee and tell him: ‘I lost the ball. No try’?
The same thing happened to Roger Uttley during the 1974 Lions’ tour in South Africa.
The England flanker was awarded a try that wasn’t, and was about to advise the referee of his mistake when the rest of the Lions arrived with a muzzle and dragged him away.