France and Italy played out a error strewn game.
How I looked forward to the first match of the Six Nations. How I wept in despair at the shocking display and how I laughed at the comedy on offer.
France v Italy was a game not even worthy of schoolboy rugby. Having coached under 15s, under 12s and even under 10s, I can say that I have never seen a performance as shocking as that from any age level team.
The amount of basic errors that a well drilled under 12s team does not even make blew my mind. There were wayward passes galore, a ball that should have been dropped on was slapped into touch, but the worst one was when France caught the ball in their own line out, deep inside the Italian half, and started driving before their jumper could get the ball down. For fear of losing it to roving Italian hands, he tossed it back to the scrum half, who kicked possession away.
Italy managed to get some sort of depth in their play, but squandered every single chance they got. France often did not even bother to form a back line and just blundered in. That tactic only worked because of the poor quality of the Italian defence.
While that first Italian score, a drop goal, was brilliant, for most of the match the kicking percent was 100% across both sides, in misses. There was a collective sigh in the pub I was watching the match in when the first kick sailed through the posts. All gathered seemed to want that record of 100% misses to stand.
As the second half began, one person jokingly noted we should see if we could get a live stream of the Georgia – Germany or Romania – Portugal match, so we could actually watch some rugby (59-7 and 39-14 respectively, for those interested).
The second half was as shambolic as the first, and was epitomised by the last few minutes. Where the first goal from a place kick caused a sigh around the pub, this last kick caused a round of laughter the like of which I have never heard before.
With time up Italy blundered forward, more through good fortune than through skill. They managed to get inside drop goal range and were in a good position to kick it for phase after phase. With two points behind, all they needed was a goal.
To the amusement and bemusement of the crowd gathered in the Aarhus pub, nobody dropped into the pocket. Nobody dared to step up and take that kick. They did not even threaten it in the hope of forcing a French off side. A penalty would not come either, and so Sergio Parisse, who is not Zinzan Brooke, finally stepped back, called for the ball and kicked the ball like only a forward can do, very, very wide.
However, the applause for this comedy cannot go to the French and Italian teams alone. The real star of the show was a clown named J.P. Doyle. The Irishman who works for the RFU pulled out the worst performance I have seen since Paddy O’Brien retired.
He got calls so pathetically wrong it was comical. Perhaps the most memorable of those was blowing the whistle for a high tackle which was never a high tackle, and not minutes later penalising Parisse for getting up without having released the ball while he was not held (if the tackled player is not held, there is no tackle) after he was clearly tackled around the neck. Parisse was rightly incensed.
Other memorable moments include: giving scrums where there were clear penalties, not stopping play and sending Parisse off when he found him guilty of a deliberate knock on inside the 22, letting high tackles go while blowing the whistles for perfectly legal ones, woeful refereeing at the scrum, including missing very obvious attempts to wheel the scrum, …, …, …
In short: if World Rugby would issue an award for comedy performance of the year, it should go to J.P. Doyle and the Combined France and Italian First XV Shambles.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena