The annual rugby tournament is something to look forward to in this grim month
Shortest day of the year, done. Christmas, hecho. All that’s left is to traverse these next couple of drizzly months before we welcome Wimbledon, Glastonbury and ‘might be too hot’ season. For now, though, we need a vehicle to steer us towards those better days. How about the best sporting tournament on Earth? Oh, go on then. Six Nations time.
Nothing brought my family together quite like the Six Nations growing up. We’d all flood over to my grandparents early enough to be fully caught up with each other in time for the build up to start with John Inverdale or Gabby Logan. You can’t fault our dedication to the pre-match interviews.
As a family resonating from Scotland, we’d sit around the telly, fire crackling, daring to ponder whether today maybe, just maybe would be different. Might Scotland pull a performance out of the bag and pick up their seemingly biennial win? Oh, that renewed hope, always a killer. The game would very rarely be different, and Scotland would very rarely win. But that was never the point (thankfully, or we’d crumble); it was just a nice event to be a part of. So why is the Six Nations the best?
For starters, it’s a simple easy-to-follow format that works. Six teams. Five rounds. Every home nation plays each other, and you never really know who’s going to win any of the three games that take place each weekend. Jeopardy also plays a huge part. So few games equals very few (if any) dead rubbers.
It’s tribal, without being tribal. It always amazes me how these players knocking chunks out of each other manage to channel their aggression so skilfully, but the same goes for those watching on. You’d think you’d need segregation, but oh no. Tens of thousands of fans packed into some of the best sporting arenas in the world, all mixing. A healthy attitude, and an element of perspective seems to be a common supporter denominator. Well let’s hope we win but if we don’t then that’ll be a shame, but this is a fun way to spend a Saturday anyway.
It’s also a spectacle, and it’s dangerous. Thirty people doing things you wouldn’t dream of doing. The players on the pitch become fictional, putting their bodies on the line, running and catching under pressure which feels so far removed from anything we do day to day; unless you are reading this and are some form of medical professional.
The tournament that’s a little under a quarter of a century old in its current format has geography to thank for its success too. London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris and Rome. All varied and popular cities, close enough together that a large number of away supporters will make the trip, but just far enough away that you need to make a weekend of it and populate the local pubs for the weekend.
Rugby is still faced with huge challenges. It has to find a way to navigate its way through a sea of safety concerns that need to be taken seriously and fend off the red trousers and brogues stereotype; something Full Contact on Netflix has made a brilliant start in debugging (just watch Finn Russell and Ellis Genge in the first two episodes). Though through the evolving sporting landscape, emerging new tournaments, investors and formats, the Six Nations is something we’re very lucky to live with, and I really hope it never gets taken away from us.