It is great watching Wales. Unless you are Welsh. Their penchant for final-quarter comebacks makes them the side most likely to nudge you free of your armchair's hard-earned buttock-groove on Six Nations weekends, but also the one most likely to cause a legitimate cardiac episode in your own lounge.
The now traditional slow start offers the viewer a bit more leeway when scheduling his or her weekend; we can now put the kettle on and knock up a bacon sandwich with the paralysing fear of missing kick-off removed from our conscious minds. Very considerate of them.
These last-gasp, overdue assaults on enemy lines, however, are putting marriages at risk all over the rugby world. If, as happened to me last weekend, one's wife walks into the room – anchoring down on the one piece of carpet directly in front of the television – with news of some ghastly reality dance show just as Shane Williams is flying on to an ambitious, wide pass from Stephen Jones which might win Wales the game, there is only one reaction in a man's repertoire and I do not need to spell it out. Suffice it to say, I was soon getting dinner to make up for it. The lengths we go to for love; Chinese takeaway never fails.
There is one thing, though, that we must not forget: they have lost two games. The team famed for their attacking, breathtaking style of play have come unstuck and are now losing. Were this the gnarled All Blacks team of the 1990s or the all-conquering England side of 2003 there would be a simple, well-rehearsed Plan B on which to fall back. Up the jumpers it would go, through the guts they would travel and over the three-pointers would fly. But this Welsh unit seem not to have any contingency tactics in place. The game-plan seems to be: "Get it to Shane."
As an Englishman, and a neutral, I love to watch these games. But Test rugby is about winning, which is why I was surprised to see England harangued so vehemently after their win in Italy. Granted, this was not a match likely to feature on ESPN Classics but it was, at least, a victory at international level. It turns out, though, that Mr Punter wants entertaining these days. How demanding.
I suspect that England would have received a smack on the nose rather than the proverbial hook to the jaw at the hands of the Press had they narrowly lost a Super 14-style try fest. Instead they tried, as was demanded of them, to play an expansive, high-risk game in horrid weather against a hugely experienced Irish team used to winning and it did not come off.
On that day, playing against that team, entertainment was almost too much to ask. Intent rarely makes ink in the history books and try counts do not remain relevant for long. Of course, no international rugby team should have public opinion too high on their agenda; no, success breeds support in the fickle world of sport and the only way to truly succeed is to win regularly. After a while, in my experience, the confidence brought about by a run of victories will lead to players trying more on the field. It will dissolve some of the inherent apprehension in the minds of the athletes, and the often crippling fear of mistakes will fade over time. But only when teams are winning.
The challenge is to find a way to win, whatever the situation. This was a trait of that 2003 England team which seemed inbuilt, but was the result of years of work, of consistent selection and, along the way, some painful losses. Winning is a behaviour more than it is a habit; it is not something that just happens. And it happens to be the most important thing in sport.
To win or to put on a show? This seems to be the question of the day. If you ask any professional athlete, the answer will prove predictable but the all-important viewer at home might feel differently. People put aside time to tune in and expect to be entertained and this is why, even after winning a horribly awkward game in Italy, English heads were being called for.
It is, I think, a conundrum with a very simple answer; win first, entertain second. The ultimate aim is to make victory itself the prize, not just the fun bits. Success needs to become fashionable again, and boring wins might just be the place to start.
Moody news is very welcome
There are some signings that, for whatever reason, one never considers possible. Most of us never would have thought Lewis Moody would leave Leicester, let alone join the old enemy, Bath. But join us he has, and we are all absolutely over the moon. What a message of intent from our management but, more than that, what a bloke to have in the team.Reuse content