There were some terrific games of rugby and football over the past weekend. I managed to watch England v Wales and Gloucester v Quins at rugby on Saturday and the Arsenal v Tottenham football match on Sunday. I skipped the Liverpool v Cardiff League Cup final on Sunday in favour of a cycle ride, but got back just in time to see some of extra time and the penalties.
What did we learn?
1. England’s rugby team is blossoming. Superb performance on Saturday against a really good Welsh team which has been two or three years in the development. Wales won 19-12, but a draw would have been fair. Only one try, but an excellent, hard-fought game. And that disallowed England try at the end. Looked (through English eyes) like a try, but Toby Flood might have struggled to convert it anyway.
2. Wales look like they could win the Six nations. So much for my predictions (see Sportsthoughts 10). I thought half the team was injured. Turned out not to be the case. They look strong in all areas. Warburton is magnificent of course, but one of the players who always impresses me is Jonathan Davies in the centre. Always in where it matters. Fast, strong, decisive.
3. Owen Farrell is the new Jonny Wilkinson. With added pace.
4. Put Quins and Gloucester together and you always get an amazing game. Quins lost 29-23 on Saturday, but it was such an enjoyable match. Both teams running from just about anywhere. Gloucester’s back three – Simpson-Daniels, Sharples and May – must be the fastest in the Premiership. Quins not far off, but May in particular is unbelievably fast, as he showed with his solo try. England call imminent.
5. Quins must stop giving away so many penalties in the scrum. Big James Johnston needs to work out what he is doing that annoys referees. It may have been the reason Quins lost on Saturday.
6. Arsenal still have the force – if only they believe it. What a win against Tottenham, 5-2 after being two down. Arsenal fans (including my son) need to start backing their team. First half, Rosicky and Walcott reviled; second half they were the heroes – along with Van Persie of course.
7. Rosicky is incredibly talented and might just be starting to benefit from having a decent run of games. Stick with him, Arsene.
8. Spurs need to get back to what they are really good at. Bale on left, Lennon on right, terrorising defences. Modric pulling strings in the middle and Parker shielding and taking the short passes. All these things weren’t happening on Sunday. Are they losing nerve as we get to the business end of the season? Is Harry distracted by the England talk? Who knows, it may have been a one-off. But Man Utd are next. Back to basics, boys!
9. Cardiff did the Championship proud against Liverpool in the League Cup final, but they had better start practising their penalties for the play-offs. Two out of five was pretty atrocious.
10. West Ham had a dire 0-0 draw v Palace on Saturday. Seem to be playing better when they have 10, after a red. Hopefully, just an off day. Time to get the creatives – Lansbury, even Morrison – more involved? Suspect Big Sam may go the other way. The solid experienced types. Need to have faith in him – he is doing a decent job. Must, must…
Just my own viewing and preoccupations. But as Spring approaches, the going gets heavy. The time when teams and individuals need to step up to the challenge. Time for belief, focus, determination. Which is why Man Utd (football) and Leicester (rugby) so often deliver, domestically at least. They have it all.
I’m still hopeful about Quins, West Ham… and Arsenal. But I feel wobbly. It could all go horribly wrong. I need some of that belief, focus and determination.
As for England rugby- that solid third place in the Six Nations will probably be a result. I’d like to see Stuart Lancaster, the temporary coach, get the job full time, but my guess is that the selection panel will be very tempted by a big name, like Nick Mallett. We shall see…
But, hey, so much to look forward to!