Talking sport … with Jim Tait

With the Six Nations Rugby Championship now three-fifths of the way through, only France remain unbeaten.

Scotland’s victory over Italy in Rome on Saturday was deserved, and enough to avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon.

As a spectacle the match will not live long in the memory, save for captain Stuart Hogg scoring the kind of try that only a few in the world can produce.

Hogg’s display overall was very good, both defensively and from an attacking point of view. From the former perspective, the big positive about the Scots so far this year is that they have conceded the fewest tries and the least points of any of the six teams. Few would have predicted that a month ago.

Hamish Watson got the nod for man of the match against the Italians, another indication that the open-side flanker is back to his very best. Others to stand out were loose-head prop Rory Sutherland, the find of the tournament, and Watson’s back row colleague Jamie Ritchie.

Elsewhere at the weekend France proved just too good for Wales in Cardiff, and are now the only side left with the chance of a Grand Slam. The French have been very impressive this season and have about five or six players who would be in a combined Six Nations team so far.

At Twickenham there was a typical battle between two outfits who prefer brute strength to artistry. What little flair was evident mostly emanated from Ireland in the latter stages, but England had got so far ahead by half-time the game was really over.

Sadly once again we had a referee, this time Jaco Peyper, seemingly unwilling to penalise a side which is consistently in breach of the offside rule.

Irish fly-half Jonny Sexton, who had an awful game himself including making a complete mess of two kicks, could regularly be seen complaining to the referee. That even included pointing to players who were blatantly in the wrong place, but Peyper refused to take action.

Only midway through the second half, when the Irish were all but buried, did Peyper appear to notice that so many white shirts were lying on the wrong side of the ball. I found that absolutely baffling.

A week on Sunday Scotland will be in action again, this time back at Murrayfield against leaders France. That could be close, with the French chasing a clean sweep and the Scots still harbouring hopes of finishing third or fourth in the table.

While the Finn Russell saga shows no sign of sorting itself out, and Adam Hastings likely to continue at number 10 despite being out of touch against Italy, it would be good to have a couple of players back from injury. The presence of either winger Darcy Graham and lock/back row Sam Skinner would strengthen things in both departments.

Team of the tournament so far: Elliot Daly (England); Jonny May (England), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Gael Fickou (France), Mattia Bellini (Italy); Romain Ntamack (France), Antoine Dupont (France); C J Stander (Ireland), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), Gregory Alldritt (France); Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Bernard Le Roux (France); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Julien Marchand (France), Joe Marler (England).

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Two of my favourite footballers, in my opinion the greatest ever strikers from their respective international sides, celebrated their 80th birthdays over the past week.

Last Thursday it was the turn of Jimmy Greaves, who sadly is not in good health having suffered a serious stroke five years ago.

A documentary on BT Sport that evening covered all aspects of Greaves’ career, ranging from his early days at Chelsea, a big money move to AC Milan, the return to Tottenham Hotspur, the shock transfer to West Ham and his final days in non-league football.

The programme also touched on the hepatitis which he suffered from during the 1965-66 season. He was warned that he would lose up to a yard in pace as a result of the illness, but bounced back with four goals in an away victory over Norway.

Then came the 1966 World Cup, an injury against France and Greaves’ omission from the side for the final. To see his replacement Geoff Hurst, who was an inferior player, score a hat trick and ultimately receive a knighthood, must have been difficult for Greaves. But typically he was magnanimous about the issue.

At the end of his West Ham career Greaves succumbed to severe alcoholism, which brought his contract to an end. After four years away from the game he made a comeback with Barnet among other non-league clubs, and although still impressive his best was long gone.

Greaves later forged a new career in television, first with Star Soccer and then more famously as the funny half of the Saint and Greavsie double act with Ian St John.

I have to laugh when the likes of Gary Lineker and Harry Kane are sometimes compared to Greaves. Watching old footage reveals how a good number of his goals involved running from just inside the opposition half, beating two or three players and then rounding the keeper. Comparison? There really is none.

On Monday it was the 80th for Denis Law, my boyhood hero and favourite player of all time.

Law has also not enjoyed the best of health, suffering from debilitating eye problems and also from prostate cancer. But happily he appears to be in reasonable fettle at the moment, well enough to appear at the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year event and attend former Manchester United team mate Harry Gregg’s funeral at the weekend.

They say it is not always advisable to meet your heroes, but I would gladly pay money to interview Law.

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It was reported last week that Neil Fenwick is in the frame for the Shetland football manager’s job.

If that turns out to be the case then good luck to the Lerwick Spurs player/coach.

When the position was first advertised last year the wording suggested it would be a difficult task, with the applicant likely to need a strong back-up team. That probably explains why so few people came forward.

I’m not convinced anyone needs to be going through an interview process over this. None of the most successful people to have held the position were subjected to such scrutiny, and they mostly did the job very well.

If Fenwick is indeed the man, let’s all get behind him.

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There is obviously still plenty of power in the conveyor belt which produces Shetland athletics talent, as evidenced by the success of young Layla Todd at the weekend.

The 12-year-old’s fourth-place finish in the Scottish National Cross Country Championships was a tremendous achievement, a credit to both her and her coaches.

With distance runner Seumas MacKay now too old for the junior inter-county squad and sprinter Katie Dinwoodie just having a year or two left, it will be necessary for younger competitors to fill the void. Todd will likely be one of those in the frame soon for the 1,500 metres event.

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Boxer Tyson Fury’s display against Deontay Wilder on Sunday morning, to claim the WBC heavyweight crown, was sensational.

After the previous draw between the two, when Fury was ahead on points but floored twice late on, many predicted that this time Wilder would have his measure. No chance.

Whatever you think of the so-called “gypsy king”, who has not always endeared himself to the general public, he is massive box-office entertainment.

Wilder may still be given a third fight, which would be disappointing, or Fury’s next outing could be a unification battle with fellow Briton Anthony Joshua.

That could well be a mismatch, as Fury appears to be in a different league from the muscle-bound Joshua. But if it goes ahead it should be in the UK, not in Saudi Arabia as has been suggested.


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