Another PASSPORT innovation: a regular sports page. A monthly magazine looks beyond the white noise of the daily results, and contributes intelligent, informed, expert commentary on key sports. I am a retired prop forward, so I can only write (slowly) about rugby. Make it YOUR sports page – please round up your local sports expert, and get them to tell us about what is going on, both international big scale sports, and what you are doing in Moscow.
2011 and 2012 are great years for sport. Quadrennial events include the Rugby world cup in New Zealand, the European football championships in Poland and Ukraine and the summer Olympics in London. In football, the UEFA Champions League is squeezing the last 16 into the quarter finalists.
Rugby 6 Nations at half way
As PASSPORT went to press, the European competition was nicely balanced. All are seeking to reach peak form for the World Cup in September, so this tournament is watched carefully for signs of who might challenge the three top southern hemisphere sides, with the New Zealand All Blacks the clear favourites, once again. Only England in 2003 have challenged the Tri-Nations’ dominance.
Reigning champions France were thought to be not ready, after a poor summer and patchy preparation. Old champions Ireland have a vastly experienced team, but aging fast without a sign of young replacements for the golden generation. England have endured some lean years, but are showing signs of getting a team together in time for the world cup. The fixture list looks helpful, too. Wales reinvented the game based on speed of movement and thought, of slipping through and round opponents so they are left chasing shadows. However, a bad run of results had left morale very fragile. At the foot of the table, Scotland have been rebuilding, and are dark horses with the potential to cause an upset. Italy are the recent additions to the tournament, and get better every year.
The first weekend’s games went according to form. The magnificent Millennium stadium in Cardiff has often been the downfall of English teams, and the retractable roof seals the incredible noise in. Wales started with the expected high tempo assault, but England absorbed that pressure and then ground out a solid victory. Next, the Italians played for their lives, and got within a couple of minutes of beating or drawing with the Irish. A win for the aging Greens, but very unconvincing. And in Paris, Scotland scored an impressive three tries, but without quite catching a France team that looked brilliant in attack, but left far too many holes in defence. England, France and Ireland took the early honours, but without looking like clear champions.
A week later and the picture changed. At their Twickenham HQ, England destroyed Italy 59-13 with enough space to run in an amazing eight tries. This result was expected, but the next two games were harder to predict. A confident Scotland at home to a shaky Wales? The delight of rugby is its unpredictability. Wales were cornered, and came out fighting. No need, as the Scots were as poor as they have been for a long time, and surrendered 6-24. The weekend’s climax came in Dublin. A determined Ireland scored three tries while restricting the French to just one. However, in their zeal, they gave away penalty after penalty, and despite a thrilling, chaotic, madcap last ten minutes, the French hung on to win by just one score, 22-25.
So. England and France with a chance of a grand slam. Ireland and Wales waiting in hope of a slip up and still a chance. Scotland and Italy needing to rescue pride and confidence. The Moscow Dragons organised a sweepstake for charity. After only six games, only one entry had called every result right, and a dozen more had got five. A great tournament because almost anyone can win or lose almost any game. Stay tuned!
March: 12/13 & 19 – final two rounds of the 6 Nations
April: Heineken Cup quarter finals: 4 French, 2 Irish & 2 English clubs