French coaches as unpredictable as ever
You just can't trust the French! Yes I know that seems a bit harsh, but bear with me as there is a reason for such seeming xenophobia.
The regular reader (thank you!) of this blog will have spotted that my efforts last week included the most seering, incisive bit of sports betting advice for many a year - move over Angus Loughran!
What I said was that France were my tip to take the RBS 6 Nations title - and here's the big one - the French winger Vincent Clerc was my tip to be the Player of the Tournament. Clerc didn't let us down at Murrayfield last Sunday with his two-try, man of the match performance, as new coach Marc Lievremont's side rammed Scottish optimism back down their throats with the most convincing win of the first weekend.
Imagine my surprise then on Wednesday when Monsieur Lievremont announced his side for this weekend's match and left both Clerc and the impressive debutant fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc on the bench. What was he doing? We thought Bernard Laporte was the "Mad professor".
Anyway just as I was researching the French for "rotation policy" and thinking of my Rafa Benitez lines, a pulled thigh muscle for last week's try-scoring debutant Julien Malzieu earned Clerc a reprieve. Fortunately for my bet he will start against Ireland - who will no doubt remember his last-minute try from last year at Croke Park.
The Irish were unimpressive in their win over Italy last Saturday and still seemed burdened by those World Cup blues, as Keith Wood said last weekend, surely the French will only get better with more time - and three successive games at Stade de France.
The real drama of week one came at Twickenham last Saturday as Wales recalled the revival of Paris 2005 to overcome a faltering, and admittedly injury-ravaged England for their first win at Twickenham since 1988.
As Brian Moore said last Saturday England "imploded" and for Jonny Wilkinson, so long the golden boy, Sunday's papers made interesting reading. Wilkinson has had to carry the can, fairly or not, for the catalogue of errors that allowed Wales back into a game that was seemingly lost.
In his interview for BBC TV this Saturday, Wilkinson says he barely slept for two days after the match and accepts the pressure is on his much-battered shoulders for England's match in Rome on Sunday.
By contrast the Welsh coach Warren Gatland has had to hold a nation's euphoria back after such a sweet unexpected victory over the old enemy in his first match as coach. Another part of our build-up on Saturday will see an amusing reworking of the Lord's Prayer in praise of Gatland and his men for beating the English. Rugby it seems is still a religion in Wales.
Hopefully this light-hearted item won't offend anyone but judging by your responses and e-mails our "Spider-cam" at Twickenham enraged some sensibilities last week. Having reviewed the coverage we accept that one or two uses of this new camera may have been injudicious, but it was a first outing for a very sophisticated piece of kit to operate and we hope we have learnt from this debut.
Sorry if you were one of those offended by this, but interestingly our broadcast achieved an Audience Appreciation Index (AI) of 82% - which is exceptional and among the 8.2 million viewers they can't all have been delirious Welsh-folk.
Previously on this blog I have defended our directors being adventurous in our coverage. Yes, as many have said there are basic rules which should be adhered to. Miss any live action at your peril and keep the grammar of coverage simple. But with such a huge audience of mainly rugby-lite folk I believe it is our duty to entice those viewers in and try and capture the pace and power of rugby at close quarters - and a few tighter cuts are part of that process. I'm sure this debate will go on and on….particularly on the Gloucester Fans Forum it would seem!
A more successful innovation last weekend was the chance to watch all three games again in their entirety on the BBC iPlayer. This proved to be a huge success with 10% of all traffic to this service coming for the Six Nations games. This service is obviously now in place for all this year's games.
Finally I wrote last week of Rory Lamont's unusual preparation for this year's Championship - visiting South Africa for Sport Relief. Unfortunately, although Rory's knee and ribs were good for last weekend he suffered shoulder and ankle injuries in that defeat by France. So the wheel comes full circle this weekend with Rory back as our pitchside guest for Scotland's visit to Cardiff.
We wish Rory and all the week one casualties a speedy recovery. The list of injuries suffered last weekend serves as a reminder of the brutal nature of this sport these days - whatever angle you look at the game from!