I observe the same principle when it comes to watching rugby. The trouble with the remodelled Six Nations Championship is that there is too much of it. It is concentrated into too short a time span. I realise that we cannot have 15 matches spread over consecutive Saturdays. But what about seven-and-a-half weekends? That would obviate the kind of choice I had to make on Saturday. I plumped for England v Wales. It was, as they say, no contest.
Sunday was easier because there was only one match. I spent the time cheering Scotland on from the comfort of an armchair, and consoling myself with the reflection that, even though I had placed a bet on France to win the championship at even money, I had desisted from investing in them to win the Grand Slam at more favourable odds of 6-4.
I have always possessed a certain sense of guilt about Scotland. It is not that I have anything against them. It is a question rather of neglect. I saw that fine flanker Doug Elliot playing just after the war, with many famous victories afterwards. In 1990 and 1984 they won the Grand Slam. In that earlier year I was writing a column in The Field, having yet to begin my stint as a columnist for The Independent.
Among my readers was a Scottish titled lady with an interest in rugby. She also knew several journalists who did not include myself but did include the editor of The Field. She demanded my dismissal. When he asked why, she said I had paid insufficient attention to the doings of Jim Aitken and his brave team.
The editor refused to accede to her demand. When I told the story to a Scottish friend, he said: "I shouldn't worry if I were you. Her trouble was that she was in love with Andy Irvine. But then, all the girls in Edinburgh were in love with him at that time.''
The only Welsh player to arouse comparable emotions may be Gavin Henson. I doubt, however, whether he does really. He is more the creation of newspapers and literary agents, which is not to detract from his great abilities as a player. He was certainly missed on Saturday, though his presence on the field at Twickenham would not necessarily have changed the result in any way.
Nor would the alteration (or, in some cases, the reversal) of several decisions of the referee, Paul Honiss, have changed the result either. It is nevertheless extraordinary that all those decisions went in favour of England.
Honiss obstructed the Welsh defenders from stopping Lawrence Dallaglio's try by getting in the way himself, though if he had disallowed it he would have caused a riot among the Twickenham faithful. And the New Zealander also allowed Matt Dawson to score a try from a forward pass.
I am not wholly convinced that the offload from Jamie Noon from which Mark Cueto scored his otherwise excellent try was not forward as well. This, indeed, is the trouble with the offload, a perfectly sensible and often productive ploy which has been used by clubs such as Harlequins and, to a lesser extent, Llanelli for many years now, as it has been also by former league players such as Gary Connolly.
For understandable reasons, Wales developed the offload last season. Long may it prosper. But because of the shortness of the trajectory, it does often conceal a forward pass. And referees tend to wave play on, not only because they fail to spot the forward movement but also because of reluctance to appear as spoilsports.
There is a certain parallel here with the rolling maul, which contravenes several principles of the game all at once but which has now been fully accepted - not least by England.
Whenever I see England win one of their annihilating victories, I am reminded of what Samuel Johnson said about Gulliver's Travels: "When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest.''
By any standards, this was unfair of Johnson, who was notoriously biased against Jonathan Swift, the author of the work in question.
Perhaps I am being unfair, too. But that is the way I feel, and it cannot be helped.Reuse content