Why do southern hemisphere rugby teams bother to turn up on our shores every winter? It’s colder, wetter, squelchier here than sunny Sydney, Cape Town or Wellington, and every year the Home Nations seem to slip further behind their Southern counterparts.
England almost restored the faith when they came within a point of pulling off a shock win last week against South Africa – yet captain Chris Robshaw was so convinced his bruising forwards wouldn’t reach the try line that he opted for a last minute penalty instead, hoping a quick dash down the pitch and a heroic drop goal would promptly follow. It didn’t.
Robshaw’s call was not necessarily a bad one, but that stuttering climax is hardly likely to strike fear into the onrushing All Blacks this Saturday (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1).
Wales meanwhile were meant to be the Northern Hemisphere’s standard bearers, but without Kiwi Southerner Warren Gatland in the coach’s hot seat they’ve looked as wet as a paper bag in a St Asaph flood. Will there be a recovery this Saturday against Australia (2pm, BBC1)?
Away from the rugby rough and tumble, Rafael Benitez receives a further lesson in London hospitality as Chelsea play West Ham on Saturday (12.30pm, Sky Sports 2). A tedious mid week draw against Fulham did nothing to silence the jeers emanating from The Bridge, and Big Sam Allardyce, himself no stranger to terrace derision, will relish getting one over his wealthy West London neighbours.
What he won’t want to do is concede as quickly as he did on Wednesday against Manchester United, when Robin van Persie (looking sparkling in United Red, much to Gooners’ ire) scored after just 32 seconds. Sir Alex Ferguson greets December in good cheer with 4 wins from the last 5 Premier League games – perhaps he’ll raise a Michaelmas toast once Reading are swiftly dispatched on Saturday (4.30pm, ESPN)?
There is something uniquely heartening at the sight of Adrian Chiles shivering on the touchline of a lower league club during the FA Cup, but this Sunday’s match of MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon (12.30pm, ITV1) reveals the mad, bad reality behind ‘the Romance of the Cup’ in a world of 21st century expediency.
The Crazy Gang of Vinnie Jones & Co. who pulled off a surprise upset against Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final is no more: Wimbledon FC was renamed MK Dons in 2004 after the club was permitted to relocate to Milton Keynes at the behest of its Norwegian owners. Angry supporters who felt abandoned by the move came together to form AFC Wimbledon. This weekend will be the first time the two clubs have met on the football field since this acrimonious fallout. Expect bad blood.
Later this week:
Snooker: UK Championship (all week from Saturday on BBC and Eurosport)
International Cricket: India v England 3rd Test, Day 1 (Tuesday from 3am, Sky Sports 1)
Champions League Football:
Olympiacos v Arsenal (Tuesday 7.45pm ITV1)
Borussia Dortmund v Manchester City (Tuesday 7.45pm Sky Sports 2)
Chelsea v FC Nordsjaelland (Wednesday 6pm Sky Sports 2)
Celtic v Spartak Moscow (Wednesday 7.45pm Sky Sports 3)
Manchetser United v FC Cluj (Wednesday 7.45pm 7.45pm Sky Sports 4)
Europa League Football:
Udinese v Liverpool (Thursday 6pm ITV4)
Tottenham Hotspur v Panathinaikos (Thursday 8pm ITV4)