Magazine article The Spectator

Power and Pain

Magazine article The Spectator

Power and Pain

Article excerpt

Saturday was a day of power and pain. The final matches of the Five Nations' Championship gave the two strongest sides in the Northern Hemisphere the opportunity to play to their strengths. But their crushing success raised doubts as to the future of the championship, and its continuing ability to arouse interest and sponsorship.

In the very short time since rugby turned professional, France and England have widened the performance gap between them and the others to the extent that it now seems unbridgeable. As recently as 1990, Scotland won the Triple Crown; it is hard to believe that either the Scots, the Welsh or the Irish could repeat that feat, or could ever compete on equal terms with the big two.

It is not clear why these developments have occurred. Admittedly, soccer is Scotland's natural game, and the same applies to Ireland, despite Gaelic football. Greater numbers are a factor - but they always have been. These days, however, the sheer weight of numbers which England and France can deploy have even led to the suggestion that the three smaller nations should unite to form one Celtic XV.

But no such possibilities were hinted at on Saturday, when Wales and Scotland fought hard, whatever the outcome. France's 47-20 margin of victory against the Scots speaks for itself, but it also gives too one-sided an impression of the game. The first of Alan Tait's two tries was as good as any scored by either side, while the Scottish line-out performed confidently, and Doddy Weir was outstanding.

In the second half, however, class told. The French XV were formidable. Suddenly, it seemed as if tricolour jerseys outnumbered the royal blue ones by two-to-one. Benazzi, the French captain, and Lamaison both looked unstoppable. On several occasions, they were. Confronted by such opponents, a full back built like Shepherd seemed short of pace and weight. The French are now probably the best side in Europe, because they launch fluent attacks in which backs and forwards are indistinguishable.

With territorial kicking eschewed in favour of a running game, Sadourny's classy dropped goal was only one example of his team's ability to seize any and every chance offered. With clubs as good as Brive, Toulouse and others to feed the national side, it is not surprising that national confidence is growing all the time in France's ability to compete with the lords of the Southern Hemisphere when the World Cup carousel gets moving in 1999. …

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