Archive for ireland

After The Treaty

Posted in Biographical, History, Television with tags , , , , , on January 9, 2022 by telescoper

On Friday I saw a bit of a programme on RTÉ One called Treaty Live which covered the events of January 7th 1922 in the form of a modern live news broadcast. It was on that date that the Dáil Éireann voted on whether to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty (usually called “The Treaty”) negotiated between the British Government (led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George) and representatives of the Irish Government (led by Arthur Griffith) and signed on 6th December 1921. The Treaty was intended to end the Irish War of Independence and bring about the removal of Crown forces from Ireland, but it fell short of establishing a fully independent Irish Republic, instead creating an Irish Free State with the status of a British dominion rather like New Zealand or Australia (i.e. with its own government but with the British Monarch as Head of State). It also led to the partition of Ireland with six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster remaining under British rule.

Three days of debate preceded the momentous vote in the Dáil which, incidentally, took place in a room in a building in University College Dublin that is now the National Concert Hall. Here is some footage of TDs leaving the building after the debate:

It’s strange to think of the number of times I’ve walked up those steps to attend a concert without realizing this historic event took place there.

Anyway, in the end the vote was to ratify The Treaty by 64 votes to 57. It seems popular opinion at the time was in favour of ratification, and what was surprising was not the fact that the vote was carried but that the margin was so narrow: had just four TDs voted the other way it would have failed.

Éamonn de Valera, then President of the Irish Republic, was the most prominent opponent of ratification. Michael Collins, who was a member of the delegation of plenipotentiaries who negotiated The Treaty, was prominently in favour. Many questions can be asked about the conduct of the negotiations, including why de Valera did not conduct the negotiations himself. During the negotiations Lloyd George insisted that the Irish plenipotentiaries sign the agreement on the spot otherwise there would be “war within three days”. The Irish delegation clearly assumed he wasn’t bluffing so signed it. De Valera was unhappy that they did not consult more widely (especially with him) but then if that’s what he wanted he shouldn’t have sent “plenipotentiaries” – that word means “delegates having the full power to sign agreements” – but participated directly. Valera resigned as President on 9th January 1922 and was replaced by Arthur Griffith.

The anti-Treaty side considered it to be a betrayal of the sacrifices made during the War of Independence; the pro-Treaty side thought it was a stepping-stone towards the goal of independence. As it turned out a fully-independent Irish Republic was eventually established in 1949, though the partition of Ireland is still in place.

In retrospect the narrowness of the Dáil was an indication of what was to come. In June 1922 The Irish Civil War erupted between the two factions that lasted almost a year. All wars are dreadful, but there’s something about a Civil War that is particularly dreadful: people who had fought on the same side against British rule would now fight each other.

And that brings me to the point of this rather rambling post. I moved to Ireland at the end of 2017. Like most people born and educated in England I knew very little of Irish history before coming here; topics such as the Irish Famine are simply not taught in British schools, though they certainly are in Irish schools. I missed being here through the centennial commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising, for example, but have followed subsequent events in the “decade of centenaries” and done the best I can to read about Irish history to gain some knowledge.

What’s interesting about this is that the events of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, although commemorated with appropriate solemnity, do form a righteous narrative relating to the heroic birth of a new nation. As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of Civil War the issues are much more complex. An Irish friend told me that when he was taught history at school, it basically stopped at the Civil War. People generally are much less willing to talk about it than the events preceding. The Civil War left deep wounds, some of which have still not healed. Perhaps the centenary will provide an opportunity to confront some of the very difficult issues arising from this period of this nation’s history.

Storm Barra Approaches

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , on December 6, 2021 by telescoper

I’m going to have an early night tonight as tomorrow promises to be a very “interesting” day. A large Atlantic weather system – Storm Barra – is heading towards Ireland and is expected to reach the South West coast around 3am tomorrow morning. It is expected to last about two hours.

As if the winds in excess of 130 km/h were not bad enough, the storm will reach the coast just before a very high tide so flooding is expected, especially near Cork.

Colleges and schools in the Red and Orange alert areas will be closed tomorrow. Maynooth is in a Yellow alert area so the current plan is for the University to remain open, but it may change to Orange overnight and I suspect a significant number of staff and students will not be able to make it in anyway.

I’ll leave it there for tonight and update tomorrow.

UPDATE: 9.20am. It was very windy from about 6am and is now raining very heavily. Some branches have come down but no serious damage done near where I am.

Update: 14:20pm. Winds steadily backing as the depression moves out across the Irish Sea, now North-Easterly bringing colder air.

Four Years in Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , on December 1, 2021 by telescoper

 

In recent times I’ve found myself remarking quite frequently on this blog how much the Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with my perception of the passage of time, and I come to reflect on that again now that today (1st December 2021) marks four years since I started work at Maynooth University. So much has happened in that period it seems very much longer since I first arrived here.

I started off working part-time here in Maynooth and part-time in Cardiff, commuting once a week to and fro across the Irish Sea until July 2018. That was a very tiring experience that brought it home very forcefully that I don’t have anywhere near as much energy as I did when I was younger.

I won’t deny that the past four years have had their frustrations. The teaching and administrative workload, especially since I became Head of Department in 2019, and even more so since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, has been very heavy and has made it difficult to be very active in research. That’s not helped by the lack of opportunities for funding in basic science, thanks to what I believe to be a very short-sighted policy on research funding by the Irish government.

On the other hand, I have great colleagues and the students are very engaged. There are few things in life more rewarding than teaching people who really want to learn.

I hadn’t realized when I arrived in Ireland that it would take the best part of three years to find somewhere permanent to live, but I managed to buy a house in the summer of 2020. I am very happy here despite the continuing restrictions due to the pandemic.

The thing I’m probably most proud of over the past four years is, with the huge help of staff at Maynooth University Library, getting the Open Journal of Astrophysics off the ground and attracting some excellent papers. Hopefully that will continue to grow next year.

I am also proud of having played a part in the successful application for a new SALI Chair which we will be advertising formally in the new year. That is just one of many new developments on the horizon here at Maynooth, which suggest the next few years should be very exciting for physics and astronomy at Maynooth.

So, after a few years of hard and at times dispiriting slog, things are definitely looking up. Meanwhile, in Brexit Britain, events have turned out exactly as I predicted:

The referendum campaign, followed by the callous and contemptuous attitude of the current UK Government towards EU nationals living in Britain, unleashed a sickening level of xenophobia that has made me feel like a stranger in my own country. Not everyone who voted `Leave’ is a bigot, of course, but every bigot voted for Brexit and the bigots are now calling all the shots. There are many on the far right of UK politics who won’t be satisfied until we have ethnic cleansing. Even if Brexit is stopped the genie of intolerance is out of the bottle and I don’t think it well ever be put back. Brexit will also doom the National Health Service and the UK university system, and clear the way for the destruction of workers’ rights and environmental protection. The poor and the sick will suffer, while only the rich swindlers who bought the referendum result will prosper. The country in which I was born, and in which I have lived for the best part of 54 years, is no longer something of which I want to be a part.

In other words I don’t regret for one minute my decision to leave Britain.

P.S. After I finish my term as Head of Department next year I am eligible for a sabbatical, so if anyone fancies playing host to an old cosmologist please let me know!

P.P.S. Solidarity to all my colleagues in UK universities who are, from today, taking part in strike action against pension cuts and deteriorating working conditions.

Notes from Half Way

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2021 by telescoper

We’ve now reached the halfway point in our teaching semester at Maynooth University. That means there are another six weeks of teaching before the end of term break. I was looking through the notes of my modules this morning in order to make a plan for the rest of term and was relieved to find that I’m roughly on track to finish on time. That is despite the first years starting a week late and lectures being 45 minutes long instead of 50.

At this point I’m still finding it very disconcerting talking to an audience of masked students, but it’s a heck of a lot better than just talking at a camera. Quite a few times I’ve been walking around campus and a student without a face covering has said “hello Peter” or words to that effect and I’ve smiled and said “hello” back while wondering who they were. Outside, you see, people take their masks off while, inside, I’m the only person whose face is uncovered.

Still, at least during lectures I get to make eye contact with the students. I don’t know why that matters so much to me, but it does. I remember as a student I had some lecturers who were pathologically incapable of making eye contact with the class, usually staring at a spot about six feet over the heads of the students. I found that most off-putting.

Although it still feels a bit weird, I’m glad that the mask-wearing protocol is being observed very well at least in lecture theatres. Unfortunately cases are skyrocketing right now – almost 4000 yesterday, as high as last January – which is all very worrying. Are we going to move to a Plan B? I doubt it, because the Government doesn’t seem to have one. Nevertheless I do think there’s still a significant possibility of our January exams being moved online yet again, but that hasn’t been decided yet.

Meanwhile, in the UK, University staff have been balloted over industrial action relating to the USS pension scheme and to various issues relating to terms and conditions. The majority of votes cast were in favour of strikes, but some institutions did not reach the 50% threshold required for strike action to be legal (some by just a handful of votes) and others achieved the threshold in only one of the disputes. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’d like to express my solidarity with those taking what I consider to be entirely justified action.

I couldn’t resist quoting this from the Universities UK statement on the dispute:

After a difficult 18 months, students do not deserve any further disruption.

Yes, it has been a difficult 18 months for students, but the absence of even a teeny bit of recognition that it has also been very difficult for staff is extremely telling.

I’m taking a particular interest in the disputes not only because I have friends and former colleagues in the UK but also because I have the best part of 30 years’ contributions locked into the USS pension scheme, plus some additional voluntary contribitions, and am relying on the benefits from those for my own retirement. If anything happens to that source of income I am financially screwed.

Apart from the USS scheme, the other side of the UCU dispute concerns ‘four fights‘ over:

  1. Pay
  2. Workload
  3. Equality
  4. Casualisation

These issues don’t only apply in the UK, of course. Workloads in my Department are at ridiculous levels – not only for me – and we have been forced by Management decisions into a situation in which half of our lecturing is being done by staff on short-term contracts. I suspect that the unpaid overtime we have put in during the pandemic is the expectation for the future, and I see no sign of the casualisation of our teaching staff being reversed in the immediate future. I hope I’m proved wrong, but in the meantime I’m keeping a close eye on my USS pension in case early retirement proves the only way to escape…

The Irish Population

Posted in Art, History, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on August 31, 2021 by telescoper

Not long ago I did a post about a documentary series called The Hunger which was broadcast on RTÉ just before Christmas. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever. I remarked at the time that “the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels”.

Well today saw the announcement of a significant milestone in the trajectory of Ireland’s population. According to the Central Statistics Office, in April 2021 the population of the Republic of Ireland exceeded 5 Million for the first time since 1851. To be precise Ireland’s population was estimated to be 5.01 million in April 2021, which is the first time the population has risen above five million since the 1851 census, when the comparable population was 5.11 million. By “comparable” I mean the population of the 26 Counties that now constitute the Republic of Ireland.

The total population on the island of Ireland in 1851 was 6.6 million. Including the population of Northern Ireland brings the current population on the island of Ireland to about 6.9 million. The population of Ireland (ie the whole island) in 1841 was over eight million.

The following (rather old) graphic shows that catastrophic drop that was an immediate consequence of the Great Hunger but also the long period of decline caused by emigration and poor public health leading to low levels of fertility. The population did not begin to grow significantly until the 1970s.

Although the population is still nowhere near the level it reached in 1841, Ireland is in the grip of a housing shortage that the present Government seems reluctant to do anything about, not surprisingly when you realize that the present Government represents the property-owning classes in whose interests it is to keep housing scarce and rents correspondingly high. Ireland’s housing crisis is not an accident, it’s a matter of policy. Irish landlords oppressing the poorer classes and exploiting them for monetary gain. Some things haven’t changed…

It fascinates me that, with political will, human societies have made enormous changes – including financial interventions, inventing new vaccines and delivering mass vaccination programmes – to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Poverty and homelessness do not require new inventions – we already know very well how to build houses – only the political will is needed, and that’s just not there.

Reasons for Optimism

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2021 by telescoper

After an interruption of almost two months because of a Cyberattack on the Health Service Executive’s computer system, daily updates of Ireland’s vaccination statistics have at last resumed, including via the Covid-19 app (which has been moribund since 11th May).

You might think it strange but I find the restoration of daily updates reassuring. I suppose it’s because I work in a quantitative discipline but I like having things expressed in figures, though I am of course aware of their uncertainties and other problems involved in interpreting them.

The latest figures above show that about 70% of the adult population has received at least one dose while about 50% have had two doses; the latter are regarded as “fully” vaccinated as are the smaller number who have received the one-shot Janssen vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson. Although the Government missed by some margin its target of giving one dose to 82% of the adult population by the end of June, I find myself much more optimistic than in past few weeks about how things are going.

Two developments in particular have helped.

First the Government is set to purchase about a million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech from Romania. That would be enough to fully vaccinated about 10% of the population. These doses have become available because take-up in Romania is very poor and the shots would go to waste if not disposed of elsewhere. What’s bad news for Romania is, however, good news for Ireland.

The second change is that the Government has decided to allow the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines to be used on adults in the age range 18-34 and that vaccinations of this group are now being carried out by pharmacists. Previously these vaccines were only to be given to persons aged 50 and over. Indications are that there is some reluctance among the younger cohort, which is hardly surprising since it was only a few weeks ago that they were being told these vaccines were too risky, but I suspect this change will go a long way towards fully vaccinating the adult population, which may be possible by the end of August.

I regard the immunization of students next year’s intake to third level education institutions as a necessary condition for opening up campuses to something like “normal” teaching. Just a couple of months ago I didn’t think this would be possible, but now it might be. It’s still possible that there will be disruptions in supply but it’s looking reasonably good at the moment based on the arithmetic of how many doses are available.

The fly in the ointment is of course the so-called Delta Variant, which has already gained a foothold in Ireland and is set to cause case numbers to rise substantially. We will soon see whether this causes an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. The most vulnerable should be protected so the probability of a case turning into serious illness or death should be much lower, but we don’t know by how much. Unfortunately the statistics of Covid-19 are still not being reported publicly. Some people seem to think this means they’re not happening. It doesn’t. It just means the system for reporting them is not working. I expect the forthcoming announcement of the backlog will cause some alarm.

The Irish Government recently decided to pause the gradual reopening of the economy to allow vaccinations to proceed further. There is still a race between the Delta variant and the vaccination programme. The number of people vaccinated increases approximately linearly with time, while the number of Covid-19 cases grows exponentially in the growth phase of the pandemic. I think the pause was sensible.

Across the Irish Sea there is a different situation. The English Government has decided to abandon all attempts to control the spread of Covid-19 at precisely the point when the pandemic is in another exponential phase. The number of cases is now likely to increase dramatically. The number of resulting deaths may be fewer than in previous waves but won’t be zero. Perhaps more importantly, allowing a huge pool of virus to develop increases the chance of yet another variant evolving, perhaps one that can evade the defences afforded by vaccination even more effectively than the Delta variant. I shudder to think of the consequences if that does happen. Perhaps it already has.

Thoughts on Lá Bealtaine

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on May 1, 2021 by telescoper

Today, 1st May, Beltane (Bealtaine in Irish) is an old Celtic festival that marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It’s one of the so-called Cross-Quarter Days that lie exactly halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. These ancient festivals have been moved so that they take place earlier in the modern calendar than the astronomical events that represent their origin: the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice is actually next week.

Anyway, any excuse is good for a Bank Holiday long weekend, so let me offer a hearty Lá Bealtaine sona daoibh!

While not excessively warm, the weather is at least pleasant enough for me to have had my breakfast outside in the garden. As I was sipping my coffee I thought how much nicer it is to be in my own home during all this. The one really big positive about last year was that I managed to buy a house and move in during a few-month window when that was possible.

I put up a post last year on May Day that was dominated by Covid-19. I didn’t really imagine that we would still be under restrictions a whole year later, but I didn’t imagine that vaccines would be available so quickly either. Now it seems I will have the chance to register for my shot(s) next week with the view to getting a first dose sometime in June. Possibly.

The precise timing of my vaccination shot isn’t particularly important to me at this point, as it looks like I’ll be stuck at work all summer with no possibility of a holiday (as was the case last year). On the bright side, my three-year term as Head of Department ends after next academic year so there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the slow progress with vaccination – currently only about 28.5% of the adult population have received a first dose – and the very high case numbers – about 450 per day on average, and not decreasing – Ireland is now entering a phase of modest relaxation. I think this is far too early and that there’s a real risk of another surge here before any kind of herd immunity is achieved. I hope I’m proved wrong. At least it doesn’t look likely to get as bad as India, where the pandemic is truly out of control.

Workwise we have just completed the penultimate teaching week of Semester 2. Monday is a Bank Holiday so we have four days of teaching left, before a Study Week and the start of examinations. The last week will be busy with assessments and other things, though I imagine most lecturers will be doing revision rather than presenting a lot of new material. In the last few classes. That’s what I plan to do anyway.

Examinations Online Timed Assessment start on 14th May. I have three to supervise and then mark so much of the rest of May will be taken up with that, which has to be done before the Examination Boards in June. After that I suppose we’ll find out what our Lords and Masters have in mind for the start of next academic year…

On Vaccination in Ireland

Posted in Covid-19 with tags , , , on March 31, 2021 by telescoper

Following from my weekend post about issues with Covid19 vaccination, which seems to have ruffled a few feathers, I thought I’d just mention a couple of recent developments.

The first is that on Tuesday (yesterday) the Irish Government decided to change the way it vaccinates the rest of the population. The previous plan was rather complicated with a number of groups to be vaccinated in order of priority:

That plan has now been scrapped and after the current groups 1-3 are completed it will revert to a simpler scheme with priority determined only by age. As an oldie I will benefit from this, moving up several steps in the pecking order as a consequence of the decision.

Frontline workers such as teachers and Gardaí are dismayed by this decision. On the news just now various folk were trying to argue that the change is for health policy reasons, stating that the prime factor in risk for Covid-19 is age. Actually, it isn’t. The prime factor is exposure to the virus.

What I mean is that the probability of dying from Covid-19 if you haven’t been infected is zero: 100% of those suffering death or serious illness from Covid-19 have been in contact with the virus. Someone who is 60 years old but able to work effectively at home at far lower risk of exposure than a 35 year old schoolteacher.

The real reason for the change is that Ireland does not possess a system that can be used identify groups by occupation in an efficient way. Doing it by age is far simpler and would lead to a much more rapid rise in the fraction of the population immunized. Sometimes decisions have to be made for such practical reasons, but I do wish certain people were more honest.

The slow rollout of the vaccine in Ireland should have provided the Government to work out how to implement their original strategy. Obviously they decided that they couldn’t.

Anyway, for myself, I am pleased that it now looks quite likely that I’ll get at least one jab by May. Assuming the vaccine supply holds up, of course.

I thought I’d end with a thought following on from my earlier post. Some people will ask whether I would have the AstraZeneca vaccine given my views about the company’s behaviour and the lower efficacy of the vaccine as compared to others available.

I think there are two motivations for getting vaccinated. One is self-preservation. I want to protect myself as much as possible. If I had the choice of vaccine for this reason I would pick Moderna or Pfizer-BioNtech but would accept AZ if that was the only one available. As things stand, over 75% of doses administered in Ireland have been Pfizer-BioNtech,

The other motivation is to help reduce the transmission of the disease. For that even a low efficacy vaccine would play a part. If the only shot available offered just 50% protection I would still take it, as if everyone did so the population dynamics would still be significantly slowed.

It’s a similar thing with face masks, actually. Their role is only partly to protect the wearer. The other part is to protect everyone else.

So on both grounds, yes I would take the AZ vaccine if that was the only one on offer, but if I had the choice I would pick a better one. I feel the same way about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will start to become available in Ireland very soon.

Per Ardua ad AstraZeneca

Posted in Covid-19 with tags , , on March 28, 2021 by telescoper

The extent to which AstraZeneca’s dishonesty concerning its purchasing agreement with the EU is becoming clearer, and the company is increasingly engulfed by a PR disaster resulting from this and misleading claims about the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine (see here, here, here, etc). Perhaps they will now get their finger out and actually honour their contract?

Here in Ireland there is expected to be a delivery of “large volume” of doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine next week, though I doubt it will be as large as their contractual obligations specify. We’ll see what actually happens. There isn’t much confidence in AstraZeneca around these parts I can tell you.

This morning the Covid-19 tracker app for Ireland was updated with the latest vaccination figures for Ireland (25th March) which are as follows:

  • First doses: 548,945
  • Second doses: 211,223
  • Total: 760,168

That is definitely speeding up, which is welcome. Not as fast as the UK, of course, who have been the beneficiaries of 21 million doses exported by the EU. That’s about 2/3 of the total shots administered there. The number exported from the UK to the EU is zero. Nada. Zilch. The same is true of the USA. There’s no doubt in my mind who the bad guys are.

Anyway, not to dwell on that issue I was wondering when I might get around to having a jab myself. I am not particularly high in the pecking order, but from April onwards Ireland is supposed to receive about a million doses per month. Assuming that this actually happens, and AstraZeneca doesn’t crap out yet again, I estimate they should get to me in May (2021).

Another question that occurred to me, given that under-18s are not given the current vaccines – is how many doses are needed to vaccinate the adult population of Ireland. The total population of Ireland is about 5 million but that includes quite a large number of children. Looking at the 2016 census I see that the number of people living in Ireland who are under the age of 18 is about 1.25 million. That means to fully vaccinate the entire adult population will take about 7.5 million doses. Currently about 14.6% of the adult population have received one dose, and about 5.6% have received two. We probably won’t get to anything like full vaccination of the adult population until the autumn.

Let me just correct yet another misunderstanding often presented in the UK press concerning unused vaccines. The number of doses imported to Ireland currently exceeds the number administered by over 100,000, but that does not mean that these vaccines have been refused or wasted. Because the vaccination programme here follows the manufacturers’ guidelines, and because the supplies have been unreliable (especially from AstraZeneca), there is a buffer to ensure that a second dose will always be available on the necessary timescale for anyone who has been given the first. That means that at any time there will always be some doses in storage. It wouldn’t be necessary to do this if we could trust the delivery schedule, but there you go.

I wouldn’t be too worried about the slowish pace of vaccination were it not for the fact that new Covid-19 cases in the Republic are on the way up again:

The demographic for these new cases is quite young (a median age of 32 yesterday) and the increase almost certainly arises from lax adherence to the restrictions by a subset of the population. The relatively young age distribution and the fact that those at greatest risk of death or serious illness are being vaccinated should mean that the mortality figures remain low even as cases rise. Although the increase in new cases is worrying it is nowhere near as bad in Ireland as on the Continent of Europe and elsewhere around the world (especially Brazil). More worrying still is the likelihood of vaccine-resistant strains arising through mutation. Indeed there is already some evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not as effective against the B.1.351 South African variant, although this has been disputed. Let’s hope that all the AstraZeneca doses administered so far don’t turn out to be useless.

It seems to me that it’s very likely that in order to deal with variants we’ll be having regular (perhaps annual) updated vaccine shots for the foreseeable future, as the only way to stop mutations happening is to immunize a large fraction of the world’s population and that will take a considerable time.

Six Nations Super Saturday

Posted in Rugby with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2021 by telescoper

Study week is over and next week we return for the second half of Spring Semester. At least we do for about a fortnight, after which there is the Easter break (Good Friday plus the following week). I’ve just about caught up with what I should have done before the Study break started so I spent a big chunk of yesterday watching the Six Nations Rugby. Super Saturday would normally be the last day, with three matches determining the Championship, but that’s not quite how it worked out as France’s game against Scotland was postponed for Covid-related reasons.

The day started off with a 52-10 victory for Scotland over hapless Italy at Murrayfield. The visitors started well enough but soon melted away as Scotland got into gear, eventually scoring eight tries. A lot of people are asking what is going to happen about Italy. Although they have won the odd game in the Six Nations over the years they have never really been contenders and this year they have been consistently woeful. Despite millions being poured into Italian rugby from the competition they have got worse, not better.

One possibility would be to have a second division of the tournament, with promotion and relegation. One problem is finding teams to make up the other places, the European Championship includes such teams as Russia, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Germany and Belgium. One could add Georgia into that mix too. The greater problem is whether there would be enough of an audience to make this financially viable.

Anyway, the second match of the day was Ireland versus England in Dublin. I have to say that I thought England were strong favourites to win that match but what the heck do I know? Ireland put in their best performance of the tournament and ran out relatively comfortable winners against a lacklustre England by 32 points to 18. England, whom many thought would win the tournament, finish in fifth place out of six.

The final stages of that game were marred by atrocious violent conduct by England prop Ellis Genge which was not spotted by the referee at the time but which will be reviewed and should lead to a lengthy ban.

And then the pièce de résistance, France versus Wales. Wales were looking for a victory that would give them a Grand Slam, an outcome that looked very unlikely at the start of the competition. The game started at a frenetic pace with two tries each in the first 20 minutes or so. If they had kept up that rate of scoring the match could have ended 56-56!, but at half-time the score was 17-17.

Wales gradually exerted their dominance and stretched their lead to 20-30. With Paul Willemse for sent off for France sticking his hand in an opponent’s eye with just 12 minutes to go the game looked over. The French disagreed and brought out some of their best attacking rugby against a tiring Welsh side who resorted to persistent infringement at the breakdown. A succession of penalties and two yellow cards ensued. France took full advantage, scoring a converted try to make it 27-30. Wales were still in front, and in possession of the ball in a good attacking position, with less than two minutes to go but then conceded a penalty. France kept the ball alive from the resulting lineout then used their extra player to score wide on the left wing with no time left to play. It finished 32-30.

The winning try, scored by Brice Dullin

Heartbreak for Wales, but a brilliant comeback by France. What a game of rugby!

Apart from everything else I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game of rugby with so many potential tries prevented by defensive players holding the ball up to prevent grounding in the in-goal area. I counted at least six, each of them just inches away from being a try.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my Welsh friends I think France just deserved to win that game. Wales had the benefit of most of the marginal refereeing decisions and Wales should have had even more yellow cards near the end for persistent infringement. Above all, they deserved it for refusing to give up when all seemed lost. Magnifique!

The Six Nations is not yet over; there’s still France versus Scotland to come on Friday night (26th March). If France win that game heavily and get a bonus point they could still finish as Champions. France need to overturn a 20-point points difference though so they’ll have to win by 21 points or more and score four tries. I think that’s unlikely, but they’ll definitely go for it!