The strangest thing happened when I was putting together my preview of the Six Nations.
There I was, going through each of the matches, putting a W beside some names of some teams, an L beside the names of others – mostly Scotland – and a question mark beside a few games I think are too hard to call. I went through the list of fixtures using what I believe to be a not overly fanciful assessment of each team and the name of England kept coming out near the bottom of the pile. Time and time again, I totted things up and the Sweet Chariot was regularly featuring at the lower end of the standings.
I have England pencilled in for one, possibly two victories in this year’s 6 Nations. That sort of form would have them in the mix for the Wooden Spoon. To be honest, there’s every chance my predication is about as accurate as a Piri Weepu kick at goal, but there is some flimsy justification for this opinion. Essentially the view is based on England coming out on the wrong side of some marginal calls. I doubt anywhere in the RFU headquarters there’s a whiteboard that says ‘2012 6 Nations = WRITE OFF’ but on some level the powers that be know this campaign is essentially a freebie. It’s a transitional period, expectations are low and they can blood a few players. They don’t want to replace Martin Johnson until a viable permanent option becomes available/cheaper, so Stuart Lancaster is at the helm. He’s no doubt a highly talented and qualified coach, but he has limited experience of team management at the sharp end of the game and concedes a lot of experience to the likes of wily technicians such as Gatland, Saint Andre, Kidney and even Andy Robinson.
Due to injury and a questionable approach to obeying the laws of the land, he can’t even call on much leadership from within the team. There are some big personalities, but not necessarily personalities you’d trust with the leadership of a team. Or even pass by a dwarf without major incident. It’s a vastly inexperienced England squad and they things they are experienced in i.e. helping police with their enquiries, ill-discipline and arrogance, aren’t things you want in your team. If England are involved in some dog-fights, I wouldn’t be too sure they’ll pull through.
They start in Murrayfield against a Scotland side who’ll be as stereotypically determined to beat the Sassenachs as ever. They haven’t won there since 2007 and for once the limited pool of talent available to the Scots may stand to them as they will have greater cohesion than the unfamiliar English squad. Now, in general, I’m as dubious as anyone about Andy Robinson’s chances of restoring the Scots to their previous heights – the production line of young talent just doesn’t seem to be firing often enough and successfully enough – but they have become tougher opponents under his reign, particularly in the Arctic minor conditions of Scotland.
Then it’s on to Italy. I’ve given this in favour of England. They’ve had some scares in Rome, but always managed to pull through. Then the Championship makes its first visit to Twickenham where Wales are the visitors and such is the progress Wales have made in the last few months, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them win. They follow that with a trip to Paris for the game against a French team looking very similar to the one that narrowly lost out in the World Cup final with the notable addition of a head coach who the players might actually like and listen to. The form would suggest a win for Les Bleus, but admittedly, the French are past masters at not living up to the form book – both to their detriment and advantage. An English win isn’t out of the question, but it’s on the unlikely end of the scale.
They finish up by hosting Ireland at Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day. The remarkable Irish ability to pluck 6 Nations tickets out of the air is going mean a substantial portion of the crowd will be wearing green and the addition of a few patriotic pints will mean they’ll be more than capable of turning the air blue. It’s a home game for England, but the Irish fans will make their presence felt. Ireland have enjoyed a good deal of success in London in the last few years, so it’s another eminently lose-able for England.
In reality, even though they might struggle, they should still be able to come out on the right side of a couple of close results. Even if they don’t get more than a solitary win, you’d imagine that their points difference would be enough to edge them away from the humiliation of taking receipt of an unwanted kitchen utensil. Still though, they’re 12/1 to land the Wooden Spoon and the sums suggest they may not be far off it.
Am I on to something or am I just a bit mental? Applaud or decry my theory in the comments section below.