Once the babble of a Six Nations weekend dies down, an increasingly familiar thudding sound can be heard. It comes not from Tyson Fury beating the heavy bag into pulp but another northerner from the same area of England pounding the record book into a tackle bag.
Shaun Edwards’ winning championship run is up to 11 and counting, a level of consistency beyond the reach of any other coach or player since the Five evolved into Six 20 years ago.
At this rate it may be but a matter of time before he becomes the first to achieve successive Grand Slams.
Since changing the red emblem on his tracksuit from a dragon to a cockerel after winning eight in a row with Wales, ‘Monsieur Defense’ has three out of three since starting work on making French resistance look a bit more like the Bastille before the revolutionaries stormed it more than 200 years ago.
Victory over Wales at the first attempt means he has beaten the Six at least once, or in England’s case, twice. Provided they negotiate their way round Murrayfield on Sunday week, Edwards’ first campaign in harness with his fellow Wasp, team manager Raphael Ibanez, will end with a Grand Slam decider against Ireland in Paris.
The new regime could hardly have made a more striking declaration of intent, beating the World Cup finalists first up in Paris, then doing the same to the World Cup semi-finalists at their shrine on the banks of the Taff, a place where the natives hadn’t lost a Six Nations match for three years.
‘’I tried not to celebrate,’’ he said, poker-faced as usual in making his exit. ‘’I had some fantastic years here. Coming back, someone told me to make sure I went into the right dressing room. I took one step towards the Welsh one, then remembered and turned the other way. The Welsh people made me one of their own and I am very appreciative of that.’’
At this rate, there won’t be much of the record book left by the time he’s finished rearranging it. The best French squad of the last ten years will have slept soundly last night, all the more after watching Ireland’s Triple Crown disappear like a mirage at Twickenham.
On such hairline decisions are 6N titles lost
Technology took another ear-bashing all weekend long and not just in flooded south Wales but beyond over the deliberate knock-on that never was. A different verdict could easily have knocked France off their perch and kept the holders hanging on to their title.
Wales, raising a mighty head of steam in furious response to being 11-points down, drove France into such dire straits that Josh Adams seemed bound to score in the left corner from Ken Owens’ pass.
Paul Willemse ensured the ball never got that far by knocking it out of harm’s way. English referee Matthew Carley referred it to the TMO, the vastly experienced Graham Hughes, for a ruling as to whether the South African lock did so deliberately.
To many, it seemed an open-and-shut case, a penalty for Wales and a yellow card for Willemse and a possible the seven-point penalty try.
Law 8.3 states: ‘A penalty try is awarded between the goal posts if foul play by the opposing team prevents a probable try being scored. A player guilty nof this must be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.’ There was without question a probability that Adams would have scored given that he had less than ten metres to go with the French cover struggling to get across. That scenario became irrelevant as soon as Carley followed his discussion with Hughes by going with the decision of his assistant, ex-Harlequins scrum half Karl Dickson, that the knock-on was accidental.
On such hairline decisions are Six Nations’ titles lost, as the Welsh know to their cost.
Still haven’t found what they’re looking for
England fans of a super- stitious disposition would have had reason to be wary of what awaited them at Twickenham given that their opponents had been hob- nobbing with a rock star.
Paul Hewson, alias Bono of U2 fame, could be seen earlier in the week serving Johnny Sexton in the dining room at the Irish camp.
It would have evoked memories of how an England team of yesteryear suffered against opponents who had sought musical inspiration from one of their own, Wales at Wembley on the occasion of the last match of the last Five Nations.
More than 20 years after the event, nobody who was there that day will ever forget how Tom Jones brought the house down with ‘Delilah’ on a day which ended with an often inferior Welsh team bringing the curtain down on an English Grand Slam.
Carefully selecting the numbers to show
It never used to be like this but every international match now generates a blizzard of facts and figures consuming enough paper to raise fresh concerns over effects on the Amazonian rainforest.
Statistical analysis extends far beyond scoring tries and kicking goals.
You name it and there will be a stat for it:
- Ruck recycle speed;
- Time in your own half;
- Time in the opposition half;
- Time in possession;
- Time in your 22;
- Time in their 22.
And so on ad infinitum.
The dissection of Italy- Scotland contained all that data but somehow managed to miss one fact of some relevance: The attendance at the Stadio Olimpico.
Or, more pertinently given the serried rows of empty seats, how few?
No mention of it could be found on the tournament’s official website or anywhere else.
Maybe they were too busy timing the ruck recycle speed.