‘Grudge match’ has nothing on The Great War

Now that Scotland have been taken care of, the stage is set for the serious business of The Grudge Match and Warren Gatland’s return to Ireland.

Wales’ defence of the Six Nations title in Dublin on Saturday puts their New Zealand coach in the eye of a storm which has been brewing on both sides of the border over his discarding of Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions’ decider in Australia last summer.

The occasion marks the centenary of the last international played before The Great War, the Balmoral Brawl in Belfast in March 1914 which has gone down in history as the most violent of all Ireland-Wales matches.

Legend has it that the Ireland captain, Dr William Tyrell, dropped in on the Welsh team at their hotel on the Friday night, sought the hardest nut in their pack, coalminer Percy Jones and told him: “It’s you and me for it tomorrow.”

The Welsh hooker Harry Uzzel happened to be within earshot and, not sure whether what he had heard was a private invitation, asked: “Can anyone join in?”

According to eye-witnesses, the match degenerated into a running fist fight to which the Scottish referee, Mr J Tulloch, turned a blind eye.

The slugfeast must have put the Wales captain, the Reverend Alban Davies, between a rock and a hard place – presumably torn between the Old Testament word about an eye-for- an-eye and the New Testament one about turning the other cheek.

Wales having won the fight and consequently the match (11-3), they sailed back across the Irish Sea with the Reverend and his pack rejoicing in a title pinned on them by Irish critics: ‘The Terrible Eight.’

It may well decide the title but Gatland’s last run-in with the Grand Old Man of the championship will be fairly tame by comparison.

***

France have gone through so many fly halves in the last year that Jules Plisson could have been forgiven for wondering whether he would last any longer than Francois Trinh-Duc, Camille Lopez, Remi Tales and Frederic Michalak. As if in a hurry to show he has something special, the new boy took all of 22 seconds to show it – a high bouncing grubber which, intentional or not, allowed France to make a lightning strike in their thriller against England. While the bounce left England’s debutant Cornish wing Jack Nowell, stranded hopelessly in no man’s land, Plisson’s dream coincided with another new boy’s nightmare. Angelo Esposito’s failure to collect Rhys Priestland’s grubber in the third minute at the Millennium Stadium will make gruesome viewing for the 20-year-old Italian novice. All Alex Cuthbert had to do was fall on the ball for the softest try the Anglo-Welshman will ever score.

***

Had it happened at Anfield or Old Trafford instead of the Stade de France, warring wings Mike Brown and Yoann Huget would have been sent packing for their tete-a-tete in Paris on Saturday night.

Some pushing and shoving and head touching would have guaranteed the pair of them red cards on the football field. Thankfully, Nigel Owens’ astute handling of the contretemps struck a reassuring blow for common sense and allowance for rugby’s essentially violent nature.

The Welsh referee ignored Brown’s claim that he had been butted, warned both what would happen if they misbehaved again and got on with the game – a classic example of how not to make a crisis out of a drama.

***

Judging by the game’s baffling ability to understand geometrics, it can be but a matter of time before the five-metre forward pass is approved by some TMO somewhere.

The two-metre variety has already been given the green light, for Toulon against Exeter in October, and in Cardiff on Saturday Michele Campagnaro got away with something similar in setting up the Italian try which he duly finished off. Clearly Italy’s high-class young centre had a bewitching effect on more than just the opposition.

***

Toby or not Toby? It isn’t every day of the week that an international of Lions stature changes his name but one will be heading in Ireland’s direction towards the end of the week.

The Tongan No. 8 who grew up in the Gwent valleys watching his dad play for Pontypool now wishes to be known as Taulupe Faletau, preferring the Polynesian first name to the Anglicised Toby.

An affable young man of so few words that he makes the average Trappist sound like a chatterbox, Faletau gave no reason for the identity make- over. Ireland hope it will coincide with a change of fortune for a player who has won ten out of 11 championship matches.

* * *

Best of the weekend

Match: France 26, England 24.

Try

Gael Fickou’s late winner for France.

Performance

Michele Campagnaro, two tries on his championship debut for Italy in Cardiff.

Substitution

Fickou comes on in the 75th minute with France losing. Scores the winning try exactly two minutes later.

Chat line

South African referee Craig Joubert to Scotland lock Jim Hamilton after the Scotland lock conceded another penalty on behalf of his besieged team in Dublin yesterday.

‘Jim, a word,’ says Joubert. ‘The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot going on there and you’re involved in every one.’

Hamilton: ‘I’m only looking after myself.’

One minute later Scotland took the hint and pre-empted a yellow card by withdrawing their man from the fray.

Team

15 Brice Dulin (France)

14 Yoann Huget (France)

13 Michele Campagnaro (Italy)

12 Wesley Fofana (France)

11 Mike Brown (England)

10 Jonny Sexton (Ireland)

9 Danny Care (England)

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)

2. Richard Hibbard (Wales)

3. Nicolas Mas (France)

4. Courtney Lawes (England)

5. Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales)

6. Yannick Nyanga (France)

7. Mauro Bergamasco (Italy)

8. Sergio Parisse (Italy).



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