One of the least surprising aspects of the Six Nations’ opening weekend was also perhaps its most surprising.
rance and England were always going to win their matches with consummate ease – professionals being pitched against amateurs should.
However, the fact that both sides struggled at times in their ultimately easy efforts did little to commend them; nor much their vanquished victims.
Week two should see the heavyweights become more imposing; bad news for Ireland, a side widely expected to defeat a hitherto mediocre Wales.
Given the remarkably upbeat assessments of so many in the media, it appeared to all intents and purposes that they had done so.
The Irish won the hearts and the minds – Wales won the match.
France will win this weekend’s encounter against Ireland for nobody outside England have beaten the French at home in 20 years in the Six Nations; even the storied Irish team that head coach Greg McWilliams once assisted, and that his current assistant Niamh Briggs once marshalled, could not do so in their pomp.
With so much consolidation to the game they played and cohesion amongst the players who played it, they never pilfered France in the days when these second-class citizens used to take the overnight train.
Now, they have neither consolidation nor cohesion; it is much too soon in the team’s acknowledged transition so what is there to hope for?
And more pointedly, how can the public either measure or retain patience in it?
Couch potatoes struggle with concepts such as learnings and processes and work-ons; they are a fickle, often mind-numbing group who demand to be entertained by teams that are winning.
They are not always so easily swayed by entertaining teams that are not winning.
“The support last week was incredible from the public,” says McWilliams who then gets to the nub of the matter.
“But we want to be respected. It’s not about being liked. The only way to get that respect is when people see you working bloody hard to get better and to fight for everyone.
“If you have that fight in France and you stick to that plan, well, I’ll be happy with that. That’s all I ask for and the result will look after itself.
“We are in transition, there is lots going on and we’re trying to get tighter all the time. We’ve a lot of people working very hard at that.
“The goal is still to win. There is only so much ‘You did great, you were good for 60 minutes.’ So we want to win.”
We might argue that for the coaches and players to declare the goal is to win tomorrow is laudable but, for anyone beyond in a professional capacity to parrot the manifesto is the height of folly.
Also, praising the team for effort and work-rate is not just patronising, it is demeaning. It may seem akin to some idealistic notion of equality but it precisely the opposite.
It is a tightrope walk for public credibility, even if the worth of that currency is often dubious.
This team’s status may dwindle the longer their transitional quest for a new identity continues but they won’t turn their back on painful progress, even if others will be understandably tempted to do so.
Ireland – Considine, Murphy Crowe, Higgins, Flood, Mulhall; Cronin, Reilly; Djougang, Jones, O’Dwyer; Fryday (capt), Monaghan; Wall, McMahon, Hogan. Replacements – Hooban, Pearse, Haney, McGann, O’Connor, Dane, Breen, Parsons.
France – Boulard, Banet, Filopon, Vernier, Llorens; Drouin, Sansus; Lindelauf, Touye, Joyeux; Fall, Forlani; Berthoumieu, Hermet (capt), Menager. Replacements – Domain, Deshaye, Khalfaoui, Ferer, Annery, Chambon, Tremouliere, Jacquet.