It’s that time of year again. Early February. Crap weather, freezing cold… and the Six Nations rugby to warm the cockles of our hearts.
I’m delighted to see so many of the Quins boys in the England squad: captain Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown, Joe Marler, Danny Care and, at last, Nick Easter back there. He was one of the scapegoats for the fiasco at the last World Cup, in 2011 in New Zealand, when England hugely underachieved and got themselves tangled up in some embarrassing media stories. There’s another World Cup, this time on English soil, in the autumn this year, and it’s great to see Nick back in contention, at least for the second slot at No8. His form has been so good this season that when Ben Morgan recently broke his ankle, he was the obvious choice to come into the squad. In his mid-thirties, not the paciest; but incredibly strong and blessed with a real guile. Always in the right place at the right time, usually just on the right side of the law, great hands, indefatigable.
Quins will really miss the five of them over the next couple of months; but all the top teams face the same challenge. It’s why the depth of the club squad is so important.
Quins’ squad is full of promise, really exciting. But still a bit prone to inconsistency. It’s been a bit of an up and down season. There have been some brilliant performances, notably the victory over Leinster (Dublin’s province in Ireland) in the European Champions Cup (ECC) and the demolition of Leicester in the Premiership recently. But there have been some pretty awful performances too – the nadir being the 0-39 home defeat to Saracens. And we slipped agonisingly out of the ECC at the group stage on head-to-head points with Wasps. Serves us right for that crazy defeat at home when we dominated the game, couldn’t break through the Wasps defence and gave away two really sloppy tries.
So, after winning the Premiership in the 2011-12 season, Quins have slipped a little, but stayed in the top four. This season, top six will be a good outcome. We’re in that perpetual promise mode: some fantastic young players, but can they compete with the hardened pros recruited by a lot of the other big sides? I think it’s great that Quin’s first choice team has 14 English players, mostly graduates of the academy. (Kiwi Nick Evans at fly half is the exception). The most exciting breakthrough this season has been wing forward Jack Clifford, England U20 captain. Destined for great things. Quins still aspire to play the best attacking rugby around – and often succeed. But, like Arsenal in the football, they just lack that killer edge to win the League at the moment.
Benefit of the doubt. They are still a joy to watch….most of the time!
So what about the Six Nations? I haven’t got a clue! England are capable of winning it, but Wales and Ireland might just have the edge at the moment. France, as ever, could be brilliant or rubbish. Scotland look to be getting better and Italy improve every season, but not enough to be any better than second bottom if Scotland blow it. If I was going to bet on the winner, I might just put it on Wales. Their back line is awesome. Ireland might be the main challengers. England have a lot of injuries, but still have a good squad. But do they know their best team? This Six Nations could be more experimentation before the World Cup crunch.
Yes, crunch. There’s a lot of crunching in rugby. The tackling these days is frightening. How even more players don’t get injured, I don’t know. What I do know is that these next two months will spring surprises, great games, dull games and a tremendous competitive spirit mixed with real camaraderie. Fans and players. The old spirit of rugby lives on.
Get those beers in now. Wales v England starts it all on Friday evening!