Another Six Nations Tournament, bailed out by the British Tax Payer, sorry, I mean still sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland.
The less said about Scotland v England, the better. England just about deserved the win, but not much, but at least the team selection has brought in new faces. Scotland is still starting slow. Apart from setting off fire crackers in their shorts, I don't know what can be done to wake up the majority sleepy members of the team. Of the wide awake players, David Denton was a miracle. He thoroughly deserved 'man of the match' (and please note BBC, why does it seem strange to your interviewer that the best player cannot be from the losing side?). I hope to see more from him.
France v Italy was a disappointment. It never took flight. There were some lovely tries, the Italian side keep improving all the time, but where was the passion from either team? I've played in schoolboy 1st year rugby that had more passion in it.
As a consequence, after Saturday's games, I was not really looking forward to watching today's match, Ireland v Wales. As a not too neutral neutral observer (you can't come from the border lands and have if not a foot, at least a little toe in the enemy camp), I was wanting Wales to win. They did it with some luck, but also with a lot of skill. When Leigh Halfpenny was called up to kick I was mightily relieved. To be brutal, Wales' place kicking was not inspirational, and Sexton for Ireland didn't cut the mustard, O'Gara was brought on too late. Maybe the team is missing Brian O'Driscoll's presence more than they realise. It will be a permanent absence sooner than later, and they need to sort out that issue. On balance Wales deserved to win, but Ireland can feel cheated of victory.
After the game, there was discussion of the two yellow card offences. I am not going over that territory again. but what I will say is the standard of rugby referees seems to be getting worse. At scrums the 'crouch - touch - pause - engage' routine is getting almost as slow as Sexton's build up to a kick, and the pause after the referee says 'pause' is far too long. The powers that be need to sort this out.
There were also quite a few off the ball events that never got picked up. In one game the fists were raining down and not even the commentators seemed to notice what was going on. The match officials were also oblivious to it. And while I'm on my pet rant, it's about time rugby came down hard on dirty play. I know it is a hard physical game, and it is pretty nasty out there and you accept a certain level of rough and tumble, but if a player behaves like he is in a drunken brawl after closing time, he should be sent off the pitch and out of the game. The rugby unions should have done that as the game became more professional (while still pretending to be amateur). They had their chance, now let them play catch up.
After this weekend, what are the prospects? France, Wales and Ireland (and in that order) will be in the top half, England will not make the grade, but the team will have turned the corner and RFU should not change anything. Scotland and Italy will fight it out for the wooden spoon, and I am desperately worried Scotland will get it. The glory days are behind them.
Professionalism has murdered the game north of the border as sure as Macbeth had murdered sleep.