Who would have predicted that the crucial match of the Five Nations would be played at Murrayfield next Saturday?

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The Independent Online
Until recently I thought that, if you bought one of Rupert Murdoch's dishes, that was that: you could watch overseas Test cricket, a Courage league match or whatever took your fancy without extra charge. I now discover you have to pay a monthly fee of pounds 25 or so as well.

"How naive!" you may say. Well, perhaps. But, if independent television brings you programmes for nothing (the hidden costs being included in the price of the goods advertised), I do not see why Mr Murdoch cannot do likewise.

I am putting off buying one of his dishes, and paying the monthly charges, for as long as I can. But, as soon as the Five Nations' Championship is on Sky Television and can be found nowhere else, I shall know that I have lost the battle and that Mr Murdoch has won. At this point I shall have to acquire a Sky aerial and pay the fee.

Unless there is legislation, I cannot see any of the national rugby unions holding out against the financial temptations which Mr Murdoch will offer. Nor can I see the politicians passing legislation to frustrate his plans. So let us enjoy the Five Nations while we can.

A few weeks ago most observers expected France to beat England more easily than they did, and Ireland to defeat Scotland convincingly. Once again the competition has not let us down. The rugby may not have been particularly glorious, either in Paris or in Dublin. The championship itself is more interesting than many thought it would be.

For who would have predicted that perhaps the crucial match of the Five Nations would be played at Murrayfield next Saturday? Of the eight most recent encounters between the two countries at Edinburgh (1980-95) Scotland have won all. France have won all the Paris matches except last year's. France narrowly defeated Scotland in the World Cup, but Scotland could easily have won themselves.

Scotland have once again come up with a pair of very good half-backs in Gregor Townsend and Brian Redpath. But if halves alone won matches, Scotland would have secured the championship more often than they have - four times - since the last war.

They have a marvellous runner in Townsend, but France have five potentially marvellous runners, for the enforced return of Alain Penaud strengthens the backs. Rob Wainwright, the Scottish captain, has turned into a world- class forward, but for all their rucking strength the pack lack beef. Nevertheless their ground record favours Scotland.

Though we expected France to beat England more convincingly and less fortunately than they did, most people simultaneously thought Wales at Twickenham would present few problems to the home team. All of a sudden, and for no very good objective reason - the win over Italy is the only one that comes to mind - Wales are thought to be in with a chance. The popular theory is that they have the backs if only the forwards will provide them with the ball. The Thomases, Arwel, Gareth and Justin, together with Leigh Davies, are particularly mentioned.

I am writing this before the announcement of the Welsh team. Of those just mentioned, only Justin Thomas at full-back is sure of his place. The prediction is that Kevin Bowring, the Welsh coach, will prefer Neil Jenkins to Arwel Thomas at outside-half now that Jenkins has shown himself to be fit. If another old hand, Nigel Davies, is picked in the centre, this leaves only one place alongside him for one of those new, exciting young backs about whom we have heard so much.

What it comes down do is the hallowed belief that Wales can beat anyone (even New Zealand on a good day) through native wit, quick thinking and sleight of hand. Historically, the only period during which the harsh reality matched the fond dream was the 1970s.

Since then, the game has changed, on the whole for the worse. As Bowring said in a recent interview, the laws encourage forwards to grind remorselessly up the middle of the field. To his credit, in a way, Geoff Cooke recognised this, and planned accordingly.

Jack Rowell is seeking a more expansive style and, so far, failing. Part of the trouble is simple. It is that most England players seem to find the greatest difficulty in giving a pass, and even more difficulty in taking one. Modern Welsh players are not exempt from this failing either, which I expect to see comprehensively displayed at Twickenham, with the outcome decided by the boots of Jenkins or Arwel Thomas and of Paul Grayson.

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