Magazine article The Spectator

Close Encounters

Magazine article The Spectator

Close Encounters

Article excerpt

On 10 and 11 April two dazzling matches brought the Five Nations championship to a triumphant conclusion. England lost to Wales 31-32 and Scotland beat France 36-22. As a result Scotland emerged at the top of the pyramid and France is now at the bottom.

If we look back at the dirges sung over the championship before last season opened, it is a cause for both surprise and celebration that the long-standing contest is still capable of offering both the drama and excitement on which its traditional appeal is based. I am ashamed to say that I was among the faint-hearts who feared that the dominance of England and France might rob the contest of its edge. The opposite, it hardly needs saying, has happened.

Two of this season's most exhilarating encounters have been that centred on the Calcutta Cup, when England beat Scotland 24-21, and Wales's match against France, when in the mighty arena of the Stade de France the visitors scraped home by a nose (34-33). The outcome of that contest, in which the usually reliable Thomas Castaignede's missed penalty kick decided the match, highlights the importance of this skill. Anyone watching Wales's shaky start against England on Sunday will agree that the Welsh victory owed even more to Neil Jenkins's boot than to Scott Gibbs's brilliant try.

In this field a new star has been born in the person of England's Johnny Wilkinson. At 19 he is potentially a great player and one with the modesty to acknowledge that he still has a lot to learn. …

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