By Alan Dymock
THE SIX Nations is roaring into the last weekend of action after lurching past week one and it is now nearly impossible to keep pace with the competition. The BBC, however, will be missing a trick if it is John Inverdale leading proceedings on Super Sexy Sensational Saturday.
It should be David Attenborough in front of the cameras in a cacophonous Cardiff.
There will be plenty of wildlife, a bloody battle at the top the food chain and perhaps some surprising mating rituals near the watering holes of the principality capital. Throw in some soaring balls, beastly scrums and possibly even a rare swandive and it is hard to suggest a more compelling frenzy anywhere else on the planet.
So what could be spotted on this safari of smacks?
The Lesser-spotted Captain
Forget Ospreys leader Alun Wyn Jones or the wounded Ryan Jones. Forget the resurgent Sam Warburton. Galloping into the frame for captain of Wales this weekend is Gethin Jenkins.
Jenkins has enjoyed migrating back to Wales for the championship and has grown in stature the longer he has been in camp. There were doubts about his fitness and mindset after spending most of this domestic season waiting in the wings for Andrew Sheridan in Toulon. However, he has played steadily and reliably in the Welsh front row.
He still has points to prove in order to be assured of a Lions spot this summer and a few are baffled by ‘Melon’ being handed the arm band, but he will keep doing what he’s been doing 97 times previously. There is so much balance and so many other leaders elsewhere.
The pink-breasted Lion?
Last week Warburton put in a Man of the Match performance as he careered into the Scottish breakdown. He scavenged and smashed, picking off the weaker one-out runners that the Scots offered up.
He and Rob Howley have publicly spoken of why he does not want the pressure of captaincy when he could just focus on his game. When he is focussed on his game, mind you, others tend to be familiarised with the dirt and relieved of their ball, so it is no surprise that both player and coach want to let him the game and see if he can accommodate fellow openside Justin Tipuric.
However, the young man has just been named brand ambassador with Thomas Pink, the official tailor for the British and Irish Lions. If this is as well thought through, as we would assume, the no-captaincy thing might pay off for this summer, too.
Lame ducks no more
England put in a less-than-inspiring performance against Italy last round and will have spent a week being told just that. The changes have come in as they opted for Ben Youngs, Joe Marler and Tom Croft, making sure that smart tactics and consistency trumps the ballast and derring-do of Danny Care, Mako Vunipola and James Haskell.
Returning is also Owen Farrell, hoping to pull England into shape and get back to the momentum-generating rhythm that has seen England improve of late. The question is, can these changes and tactical moves ensure that they can punch through the home side, who will look to smother England? If they do England are hard to shackle.
Building to the World Cup
Putting aside the fact that these two have each other in World Cup 2015 – mainly because it is years away – Stuart Lancaster has suggested that winning the Six Nations would be a huge boost for a growing side. He told Press Association: “Both sides have got the chance to win the championship, so effectively it’s a shootout. In that sense to go to Cardiff and try and win a Grand Slam is a great test.”
He mentions test, shootout and winning the tournament, but only trying for the Grand Slam. It is a phrase he may have put in his mouth a lot, but he will not be looking too far ahead.
In truth, both of these sides are still trying to change and move forward. Gradually. Be it from eight losses in a row and a dastardly World Cup draw, or an unexpected upturn in fortunes.
Of course little tweaks may mean an interesting long-term turn, but in this moment, with this pressure, the perspiration and the title, well, it could all come down to a brutal crescendo. While tearing into each other, the players who keep their heads, will win.