With lots of match reports to be found this is going to be more of a Phlog and ramble with a bit of rugby, and likely some opinion.
Having watched five 6 Nations matches in five countries in 2015 my 2016 consisted go four in four. I saw England win in Edinburgh and Rome, then went to the Friday night match at the Principality Stadium (ooh that feels wrong!) and saw Wales beat France. My final game was the final game of the Championship and had a Grand Slam for England at stake.
With my daughter living in Paris it was a no brainer to book tickets for the England game as soon as they became available, I paid 45 Euros apiece for Alexandra, her fiancé Gautier and myself. I feel that you’d barely be able to park your car for that in Twickenham let alone get anywhere near the stadium!
As usual Eurostar was my transport of choice, what wasn’t usual was the fact that I’d had an operation on my knee 2 weeks before my trip. Crutch in hand, bag trailing behind I made my way to the terminal a little later than I’d hoped. I have to say the Eurostar staff were really kind, taking me to the front of what was a fairly long queue. I then had help from fellow passengers getting both myself and my bags onto the train, which was a great relief!
I had a really pleasant journey finding that I was opposite the parents of an ex-colleague and next to Dawn who like me is cricket mad! What chance? Dawn and I passed an hour or so once we arrived in Paris which was a nice added bonus. I choose to use UBER taxis when in Paris, they’re always decent cars driven by nice people and are very reasonable too. This time I struggled to find the car, but we sorted it in the end. Although I also struggled to bend my knee enough to get my leg in!
An evening which involved wine and a very tasty steak was followed by a long wish sleep – made longer because it took me quite a while to decide just how I was going to get myself upright from a mattress on the floor – goodness it’s hard with only one knee working! But I managed it eventually.
We ate pastries for brunch, of course, before getting rugby ready and taking an UBER to the O2 Blue Room near the Gare Du Nord. A drink and a very sophisticated McDonalds and we were on our way to Stade De France, via UBER naturally. I’ve found it a challenge to get to the Stade via public transport and with a gammy leg and crutch it really wasn’t a plan.
The security was tighter than usual at the Stade, which was actually a relief, as I walked straight through without a check of any description at both Murrayfield and in Rome. We made the mistake of asking if there was a lift as our seats were up high. A very pleasant young lady took us to our seats – via a lift – 3 times! She took us to the wrong place twice before we got the right floor. It took 40 minutes to eventually get there – I’d have been up the steps in 10! But, hey ho we got there with a few minutes to spare.
The teams emerged to much fanfare – there were a lot of England fans as there had been in Roe in particular, and we made as good an effort as we could with God Save the Queen, before the French belted out La Marseillaise – a wonderful anthem sang with real pride!
And so to the match – could this England team turn a 6 Nations Championship into a Grand Slam – a feat England hadn’t achieved since 2003, it had been a long wait. In their way stood a French team who had been poor in 2016, yet you never can tell which French team will turn up, especially at home. I’d say that sparkling team akin to the All Blacks that I grew up seeing is long gone, but they can be capable of being stubborn and have the odd wonder player.
I had my first visit to the Stade De France in 2014 when they beat England with a Ficou try in the final minutes, I was hopeful it wouldn’t be happening again.
This England team wasn’t too far away from the squad knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages, there were a few notable introductions, with Maro Itoje being the stand out New Boy. One thing that they had struggled with was discipline and this game with Nigel Owens at the helm was to be no different. England gave away 7 kickable penalties – that has a worrying ring to it – the figure was the same in the game against Wales in that World Cup. Maxine Machenaud scored France’s 21 points with his boot. As an aside it aways interests me that the scrum half is so often the chosen kicker in France.
England scored 3 Tries – firstly through Danny Care, a man who’d be my starting scrum half in this squad every time, he seems to move the ball so much quicker than Ben Youngs. Care seemed to emerge from nowhere to run in and score between the posts at the end we were sitting, to both mine and Alex’s delight, I can’t say Gautier was quite as thrilled!
Dan Cole scored the second 3 minutes later – there was a suggestion that Mako Vunipola blocked Guihem Guirado as he went to tackle, but Nigel Owens was happy that Guirado picked the wrong man to go for and accepted the try. Farrell converted both tries and had added a penalty early on.
Alexandra is learning more about rugby each time we go, but in spite of being furious at the noise the French made when Owen Farrell kicked for the 2nd conversion she hadn’t realised it’s not the done thing to laugh your socks of when the fly half makes a poor kick to touch as Jules Plisson did! Mind you, I confess her laughter had me giggling too.
Anthony Watson added England’s 3rd try after 56 minutes after Machenaud had closed the gap to 2 points – it was edge of the seat stuff. Would England throw this one away?
One factor that suggested not, was the fact that France really didn’t look like scoring a try – their decision making with ball in had was poor to say the least. There seemed to be a couple of overlap positions which were eschewed.
Farrell added 3 penalties to his own tally in the half, Machenaud scored 3 in the half. The scores finished on France 21 England 31 – and the Grand Slam was won! I have to say that it was an effort to hobble to the game, but wow I’m glad I did! It was wonderful to see this team achieve such a feat, to see them lift the trophy. It was particularly pleasing to see Dylan Hartley take to the podium after he’d been carried from the pitch on a stretcher after a nasty collision.
By an amazing coincidence we were sat across the aisle from Matthew and Anthony – two fellow Rose Army people! What chance, we also saw Colin and Barbara – fellow Saracens (and Rose Army for Colin) as we were walking out!
I think I’ve decided which is my second favourite stadium with the Millennium (I know!) coming first to Stade behind, although it’s a pain to get to, it is a stunning stadium!
UBER came to our rescue again and two of us at least went home happy bunnies! My next trip to the Stade will be to see the All Blacks play – a mere 80 Euros for Category A tickets. Never mind the train fare etc 🙂