Amid the heroics, the heartache and wails of Welsh injustice over their shabby treatment at Twickenham, the name of a long-forgotten England prop springs to mind, writes Peter Jackson.
Keith Fairbrother, the Coventry tighthead who wound up owning the club, let rip on the eve of an England-Wales match, leaving no doubt as to how he felt about the next-door neighbours. He “hated them” and couldn’t “stand to lose to them”.
“Welshmen are bad losers,” he went on, as if he hadn’t made himself clear enough. “If they win, they gloat. If they lose, they moan. I don’t think we rub it in enough when we win.”
Almost 50 years later, nothing much has changed. That sense of loathing has always been mutual, as articulated by at least two distinguished Welsh Lions in language designed to wring out every last drop of vitriol for what has always been the game.
Phil Bennett is reputed to have once stoked the dressing-room fire before an England match by telling his troops: “Look at what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel.’’
The late Ray Gravell always tackled England armed with the weight of more than 400 years of oppression.
“To beat England was a small way of redressing the balance of injustice over the centuries,’’ he once told me. ‘’It goes back to 1536 and the Act of Union. This rule was imposed on us in such a way that Welsh children were not allowed to speak Welsh.’’
Gravell saw it as the chance of righting an old wrong. Had he been watching Saturday night’s dust-up from some Elysian Field, the most patriotic of all Welsh rugby men could not have blamed a glorious Welsh failure on another dirty Anglo-Saxon trick.
The worst miss of all appeared to be made, ironically enough, by the man with all the evidence at his freeze-frame disposal, the TMO, Glen Newman of New Zealand. Replays left no doubt that the emergency Welsh full back, Gareth Anscombe, touched the ball in-goal a split-second before England’s Anthony Watson.
The longer Newman looked, the stronger the case for a try at a time when Wales desperately needed to repair the damage of a calamitous opening quarter. It could not have been disallowed for a lack of ‘downward pressure’ because those two words have been erased from the law book.
“Not clearly grounded,” Newman told French referee Jerome Garces. “First grounding by England. No try.”
England knew they had got away with it. Nobody can say that a try then would have turned the game on its head because nobody knows but in the end, a converted try would have made the difference.
The holders deserved their win, a point that seemed to get lost in the post-match recriminations. Welsh fans took to social media to air all manner of grievances beyond the disallowed try, accusing one England player of spitting at a Welshman and another of ‘sneering’ at Scott Williams for missing a late corner try.
Just another Saturday night at Twickenham between feuding neighbours. As Keith Fairbrother would no doubt say: ‘What’s new?’
Parisse pain hard to watch
A serious question needs to be asked this morning about the Spartacus of the Six Nations: How much more of this can Sergio Parisse take?
How many more beatings can Italy expect their greatest player to endure? Even the bravest warriors — and Parisse has long proved himself worthy of such description — can only absorb so much punishment.
He has repeatedly pushed himself above and beyond the call of duty despite knowing, deep down, that every time he lines up to belt out Frattelli d’Italia the anthem must sound like a bugle call warning that the cavalry are about to run roughshod all over him.
Before every match over the last three Six Nations, Parisse has talked up the Azzurri’s improvement only for his team to be washed away by another tidal wave of tries. And at the end of each beating, he has done his best to say that next time they will be more competitive and so on ad infinitum.
In losing their last 14 championship matches, Italy have conceded 80 tries. In other words, Parisse will have spent almost as much time lining up behind his own posts almost as often as he has at the tail of the line-out. The demoralising effect of such a default position cannot be overestimated.
That the man himself has shouldered the burden for so long and carried his team from one rearguard action to the next has long since made him a towering figure. The strain of a constant battle against uneven odds is taking its inevitable toll.
At the risk of being accused of sacrilege, there were times against Ireland when Parisse was no better than ordinary. And while he did put the second Italian try on the proverbial plate for Edoardo Gori, there were other times when he looked distinctly less than ordinary.
Given what he has gone through and continues to go through, it is no wonder. Italy have now lost all but 10 of 62 Six Nations’ matches under Parisse’s command.
Had a boxer lost that many, the towel of humanity would have been thrown into the ring long ago.
Overjoyed at Underhill tackle
Games to remember: 1. England’s substitute flanker, Sam Underhill, for the tackle of the championship, on Wales centre Scott Williams, when it seemed all hope of stopping him had gone. 2. Greig Laidlaw: Eight goals in Scotland comeback.
And to forget: 1. Finn Russell, substituted after his nightmare in Cardiff the previous week. 2. Rhys Patchell, suffering the same fate for Wales on Saturday night.
Jones on winning run and on a rant
Eddie Jones might have won all 14 home Tests as England head coach, but he will have lost some friends along the way. Reporting the opposing captain to World Rugby, over a perceived lack of respect for the referee, was one thing. Making it public smacked of a cheap shot.
The governing body’s swift rejection of any wrong-doing by Alun-Wyn Jones, during the Wales-Scotland game, made it sound cheaper still. Jones is right in sounding the alarm over increasing disrespect towards officials, an offence of which his own captain, Dylan Hartley, has been guilty.
Even then, Jones found room for one more rant, berating the media for daring to criticise Mike Brown, whom he lauded as ‘the Peter Shilton of rugby full-backs.’ The England full-back ought to know all about Shilton, and the rest of Nottingham Forest’s first European Cup-winning team of 1979. His father-in-law, the ex-England striker, Tony Woodcock, played in it.
Time to ditch soft bonus points
By catching Mattia Bellini against all the odds, Keith Earls saved the tournament organisers from being obliged to award Italy the softest of bonus points. Encouraging attacking rugby is all very well but why reward a team for scoring four tries when that same team has conceded twice as many?
Many years ago, in pre-Celtic League times, Abertillery avoided relegation from the Welsh Premier League by virtue of a try bonus point at Cardiff from a match they lost 95-25.
It’s time the Six Nations looked at the way the French do in the Top 14, where the bonus is restricted to winning teams scoring three or more tries than their opponents.
Wales’ amazing discipline
Of all the stats from Round Two of the 6N, one deserves to put on a pedestal all by itself. Wales took the art of discipline to hitherto untouched heights by conceding two penalties to England, one in each half.
Never can one team have conceded so few in a Test match and never in such testing circumstances.
That they managed it amid all the fury and ferocity of their biennial grudge match at Twickenham made it all the more remarkable but without saving them from a lost cause. Scotland conceded five times as many at Murrayfield yesterday and won.
Jacko’s team of the weekend
15 Mike Brown (England),
14 Keith Earls (Ireland),
13 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland),
12 Owen Farrell (England),
11 Teddy Thomas (France),
10 Gareth Anscombe (Wales),
9 Greig Laidlaw (Scotland);
1 Jack McGrath (Ireland),
2 Ken Owens (Wales),
3 Simon Berghan (Scotland),
4 Joe Launchbury (England),
5 Jonny Gray (Scotland),
6 Aaron Shingler (Wales),
7 Sam Underhill (England),
8 Jack Conan (Ireland).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved