Rugby Union: Forcing the pace sets heartbeat racing once again

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It was good to be back. The Test against Argentina was a pleasant reminder for me that nothing beats the buzz of the Five Nations' Championship. Now I am a bit longer in the tooth, the occasion takes a different perspective. The focus and anger are still there but you seem to handle the pressure that bit better, allowing you to enjoy the atmosphere more.

The anthems ring out and the emotion chokes, so that it is hard to catch your breath just to sing each line. It is almost surreal. Your heart is focused on the 75,000 cheering souls around you, the mind is on the 15 men ready to oppose your every move. Your first thought is to be involved in the game as soon as possible: a tackle, a run, clearing a ruck, anything. I could see mine was going to be right from the kick-off. I had half expected it before the game due to my gashed head; a chance to ruffle my scrum cap as well as me. I could see it in the eyes of the three Scottish backs lined up opposite me. A clean catch, the ball cleared, re-adjust the head gear, what next?

For 60 minutes it was typical Five Nations stuff: passages of play so nearly culminating in tries but stout defence and failure to take opportunities leading to a game dominated by place kickers. England had been the dominant force in that hour yet we were still just six points ahead.

There was a danger we would be become reckless and start making mistakes and that Scotland, having soaked up so much pressure, would be galvanised into a stirring finale. Ultimately, the key to our success was patience: instead of forcing the issue we forced the tempo. This derived from quick tapped penalties, quicker line-outs and producing quicker ball from ruck and maul.

We have struggled to do the latter of late, and that more rapid distribution was probably the most pleasing aspect of our play. By quickly clearing bodies out of the way at the breakdown, ball presentation becomes better and players arriving at the ruck have more options. One of these is to pick up the ball and go, and that was the catalyst to Andy Gomarsall's try as Martin Johnson broke through at such a situation.

A lot of the rugby played in the Southern Hemisphere is based on this style of rugby. Dynamism is the key word, as rugby played with pace and precision is very hard to stop. We came close to perfecting it in a 15-minute spell during the second half.

Rugby is a simple game to play but difficult to play well, though we have the personnel to do so. What we needed was the belief to go with the ability. Hopefully, Saturday will have given us that conviction. And just how much we will need it was made evident in Saturday's other international in Cardiff.

Wales' confidence, sky-high following their victory at Murrayfield, was as short-lived as a Virgin balloon flight over Marrakesh. Such are the vagaries of the Five Nations, and more so the Irish.

Dublin is the not the easiest places in which to play at the best of times and with Brian Ashton evidently working his magic, the Irish pack once again playing with its traditional verve and passion and with Eric Elwood directing affairs, our visit in a fortnight's time will be all the more challenging.

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