By Alan Dymock
The 1981 chart-topping song Stop the Cavalry may be a Christmas classic, but in truth it is a protest against war.
Appropriate, then, that during the continent’s biggest celebration of rugby, the RBS 6 Nations, it could be the cavalry of fresh players lolloping over the horizon that help decide the rest of the championship.
It may be disheartening that England’s sharpshooter Owen Farrell is struggling still, laid low with a thigh injury, but in Toby Flood the team have a well-briefed replacement. He has the experience and the know-how to dispatch an Italian side that has lost steam since week one, and he is more than capable of feeding momentum builders like Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees or Manu Tuilagi, depending on who is handed the shirt.
Such momentum could also mean that thorougbreds like Tom Croft could be reintroduced to international rugby, with Tigers’ flanker toiling towards full recovery following a broken neck.
Up at Murrayfield this weekend there is a chance of a resurrection, too, with Euan Murray returning from a self-imposed religious exile. New boy Ryan Wilson, who has impressed with Glasgow Warriors this season, also comes in to the fray beside the heavy booted Duncan Weir. On the other side of the ball, the Welsh recall Alun Wyn Jones, although Rob Howley must have had a tough time deciding to drop the indefatigable Andrew Coombs, and Paul James slips in for the injured Gethin Jenkins. Oh, and some fella named Sam Warburton jumps in instead of Justin Tipuric. Wonder if that’ll cause any contention…
Are you expecting a French resurgence, though? Well, the parachuting in of the man with the Wolverine sideburns, Maxime Medard, to the squad may be encouraging but according to the man himself he will not be pulling up any trees against Ireland.
Talking to AFP in France, he said of his recovery from cruciate knee ligament trouble: “I remember at one point [this season] I wanted to make a dummy on my right foot and that was tough, as the message didn’t filter through to my leg.
“I can’t bend my knee totally yet, but that is normal, one requires more than a year for that. I’m feeling 99%.” He has 99 problems and his knee is one, apparently, but will Ireland hit him?
It certainly looks like a tough ask to turn around French fortunes at the Aviva Stadium. Particularly as Cian Healy returns from a ban, someone new (or old) may come in at fly-half, Fergus McFadden hops onto the wing and big Mike McCarthy returns.
Either way, Ireland will be wanting to stoke their fire, and France are still looking to set one. Wales will want to set up a winner-takes-all match with England in the last round and Scotland will want to keep marching forward. As for Italy, they will just want to survive England’s next thunderous assault. Roll on the weekend…