You couldn’t make it up.
Three countries going for the Championship, and a fourth with an outside chance, all competing on the same day but not at the same time.
Wales to go first against Italy, Ireland to follow against Scotland and finally England to meet France, knowing exactly what their target was after seeing the first two games.
We knew it was always going to be a whole day of sport, but did we ever think we’d end up sweating little nodules of depleted uranium as time slowed down to a crawl and the clock ticked ever-more-slowly towards its endless, unattainable destination at Twickenham? Did we ever suspect that rugby football was capable of distorting the space-time continuum?
Now, as it happens, I found myself in Nancy Blake’s, a fine establishment operated by staff of sympathy and knowledge much like corrida aficionados but without the cruelty. A very Limerick pub, in other words, where customers and crew are united in a deep-seated obsession with rugby football and where it’s entirely possible that your barman might leap over the counter in a sudden fit of sport-inspired fury, or materialise at your shoulder to mutter some insightful words. We’re fucked.
That sort of thing.
Today was the most astonishing thing ever.
I was in the same establishment six years ago when Ireland beat Wales to take the Grand Slam and I’ll confess that I shed a manly tear, but it had nothing on the heart-shredding excitement of today’s three-cornered fight to lift the cup.
The Welsh must surely have thought they had it nailed when they pounded Italy 61-20, but then Ireland came out and beat Scotland 40-10 in a complete sickener for Wales but also a target for England who faced France in the final game.
Those of us watching the Ireland game in Nancy’s, especially those of a sceptical disposition, muttered, brooded and crunched our knuckles when Ian Madigan ended the game with a shave-close miss of a penalty. It could come down to this, we narrowed our eyes and warned each other.
And so it could, when England met France at Twickers and slowly ate into our 26-point lead.
I have to tell you, this England-France game was one of the finest matches I have ever witnessed in my entire life, even if England finally won 55-35. If they had achieved that final converted try to win the Championship, I would have stood up and applauded them like everyone else because they would have deserved it. They were magnificent, just as France were, and it made the Irish victory all the better, emerging from such a competitive fight.
Nevertheless, leaving all that aside, my poor old heart isn’t the better of it as England slowly nibbled their way into the points margin until eventually they were within a converted try of stealing the crown from us, and then with seconds to go, when the French could have kicked the ball dead in the 80th minute, they decided to run it one more time.
Because they weren’t playing for Ireland. They were playing for France. But the decision still enraged the large French crowd of visitors in Nancy’s, all of them singing La Marseillaise, not to mention our indigenous French friends who live here all the time.
I caught the eye of my friend Guillaume and sent him a quizzical Gallic shrug. Pourquois?
He replied with a shrug considerably more Gallic than mine, being French himself. C’est la vie. Or words to that effect.
As it happened, the final French upsurge came to nothing. The Brits didn’t get their final try or their conversion but Jesus what a game of rugby. One of the best I have ever seen in my entire life, and full credit to both teams.
What a great Six Nations.
Shouldn’t everyone be proud of it?