Best team performance
England’s first-half display against Wales, or their second half against France? It’s a cigarette-paper job, but the second contender just pips the first. The Grand Slam candidates could easily have been behind at the interval, having treated the Tricolores to a number of free gifts, but they found some authority and control when they needed it most. George Kruis at the line-out, George Ford with his tactical kicking… suddenly, the red-rose nation has Saint Georges coming out of its cauliflower ears.
Best individual performance
England No 8 Billy Vunipola was something else throughout the round-one match in Edinburgh and something else again when the Irish pitched up at Twickenham at the midpoint of the tournament, but for those who respond to brainpower as well as brute force, Maro Itoje’s spellbinding contribution against Wales could hardly be bettered. He scrummaged his weight, he mauled with a cold-eyed fury reminiscent of the great red-rose locks of yore, he tackled and scavenged and turned over the ball with a rare passion and he ripped up the visitors at the line-out. John Eales, the Wallaby titan, would have nodded in recognition. No wonder comparisons were being made at the whistle.
There were some gems from the diamonds on the wings – Anthony Watson, Virimi Vakatawa, George North – but the opening French try against Scotland at Murrayfield was a thing of beauty on the one hand and a blessed relief on the other. It proved Les Bleus can still play with what the great Jean-Pierre Rives called the “special spirit” when they really stretch themselves. And to make matters better, the touchdown fell to Guilhem Guirado. No player could have been more deserving.
Step forward, Craig Joubert. Or should that be sprint forward? The much-maligned South African referee returned to Twickenham, scene of his heinous World Cup crime against the Scots, to control the highly charged England-Wales match and made such a good job of it he stayed on the field to shake hands with the players rather than disappear down the tunnel at the speed of sound.
An Eddie Jones special ahead of the Grand Slam game in the City of Light. “I imagine there’ll be marching bands and cockerels running around… everything French you can imagine. I’ll always remember coaching the Wallabies in South Africa in 2003. We beat them in Sydney and then went over there to play them on Nelson Mandela’s birthday. The bus comes late so we’re late to the ground, we come back in after the worst warm-up and who’s sitting in a golf cart in front of our dressing room? The great man. No one can tell him to leave, obviously, so we have to wait outside. We got back in just in time to go out again.”
The Six Nations’ handling of the Joe Marler “gypsy boy” affair. Assuming the tournament hierarchy is populated by sentient beings rather than stuffed dummies, who can even begin to explain the committee-room cock-uppery that exposed the championship to such ridicule? Memo to the bosses: this is 2016, not 1976.
Obvious next move
Get Georgia involved – or at least give them a pathway towards involvement at some point in the foreseeable future. Eastern European rugby is buoyant in many respects, but it will sink like a stone unless Western Europe provides meaningful support, competitive as well as financial. If the Six Nations administrators continue on their current course – a kind of “closed shop” policy for rich people – the tournament will stagnate and Georgian rugby will be choked off. Call it a lose-lose situation.