Thursday, April 05, 2007

Vive le France! Injury-time TMO = championship!

March 19, 2007

The nailbiting conclusion to this years' wide-open Six Nations championship came down to the worried-about pocket calculator climax on Saturday. I was supposed to be working, but the contests got the better of me and I sat transfixed for six straight hours.

First match up St. Patrick's Day was Ireland taking on feisty up-start Italy in Rome. It's fair to say that both sides are currently showing the best form for each side that anybody with a living memory can recall. In the first-half, the huge Italian pack shoved Ireland around the track, but only had penalty goals to show for it. The visitors scored a pair of tries and led at the break 20-12.

Things really opened-up in the 2nd-half as the Irish got some opportune tries early and with the sniff of victory up their noses began piling on points in an effort to overhaul France for the championship tie-breaker.

In the end, Ireland scored a total of eight tries and took a 34-point advantage going into injury-time, leading the Italians 51-17. But a defensive lapse and a last-second converted injury-time try to Italian fullback Roland De Marigny shaved back seven points ~ possibly crucial points. Final score: Ireland 51 Italy 24. Ireland would sit out the rest of the day's matches wondering if they had done enough; their final 6N table point-differential was +27 points. Meanwhile, Italian fans gave their boys a ticker-tape parade in Rome.

In the all-important second match, France hosted Scotland in Paris, knowing they would have to beat Scotland by 23 points to win the championship. Scotland started with a flash, but France dominated most of the first half and comfortably led 20-7 going into the changing sheds. Then Scotsman Sean Lamont scored a massive try at the whistle to give Irishmen everywhere heart. The halftime score was 20-14, only a six-point advantage, which meant France had to bag +17 in the remaining 40 minutes.

The French were into the game's last quarter leading 39-14, just barely covering the point difference they required and seemingly on cruise-control. But "cruise contriol" requires taking the foot off the pedal, and that's exactly what France did, running out of gas and holding that scoreline toward the conclusion of the game. Then with 4 minutes on the clock ~ disaster for the French ~ as Scottish front-rower Euan Murray stood wide on the wing and claimed an unlikely try in the corner. The match was ending with France holding a 20-point lead, i.e. not enough for the championship. The heroes would turn out to be French replacement Elvis Vermeulen and Irish Television Match Official (TMO) Simon McDowell. France patiently assaulted the Scottish line, and into injury-time Vermeulen got over the line and kinda-maybe-sorta-perhaps-dunno-possibly scored under a mass of bodies --- so, upstairs went the decision. TV replays never showed proper grounding of the ball, nevertheless, an Irish TMO on St. Patrick's Day felt the heat of Paris tightening his collar and awarded the try, giving France a resounding 46-19 victory over Scotland, and more importantly a +27 point advantage ~ same as Ireland took earlier in the day ~ gifting Les Cocques the Six Nations championship on a tie-breaker.

Rugby Planet called it a "Hollywood ending."

Inky thinks otherwise:

"France won the title by virtue of a points differential. They beat Scotland (46-19) by the same twenty seven point margin that Ireland beat Italy (51-24), thus retaining their four point differential week from the previous round.

"I'm sorry but it's true... I actually led a newsletter with that. Oh, and Wales beat England 27-18 in Cardiff, a win more disturbing for England than it was heartening to the Welsh, whose season has been the most grim of all since Clive Woodward sabotaged their development."

Which takes us to the final match of this years' tournament, Wales hosting England at Cardiff. Wales tend to be motivated more by the sting of fear than the glory of victory, and with a winless tournament and a "Wooden Spoon" staring them in the face, raised their game and defeated the lily-white roses 27-18.

Mick Cleary tries to reflect on what it all means.


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