The Six Nations: Still Playing Second Fiddle To The Southern Hemisphere

 
 

Sports co-editor David Kent sticks the boot into the Six Nations, which he feels is long overdue a re-think.

PEOPLE can remember one thing about Ireland’s rugby season in 2016. And rightly so, because the victory over the All-Blacks in Chicago was monumental; a first time ever event. But it was in an uncompetitive game. Take a look at Ireland’s competitive record from this time last year and it reads like this:

Played: Six
Won: Two
Lost: Three
Drew: One, having been ahead by more than two scores

If you need to see how a small rugby tournament with four teams should be run just look at the Rugby Championship in the Southern hemisphere

Which isn’t exactly as impressive. No, ‘tests’ don’t count. Just because they’re given a different name does not mean they are any different from a friendly in football. If you believe that there is a difference between the two, then write in and prove me wrong, because I see none. No points on offer, no trophy of any sort – no desire to win.

Joe Schmidt had a shocker of a Six Nations last year. Starting with the absolute capitulation against Wales in the Aviva. Then not being able to overcome a brutish French side and being utterly outclassed by England at Twickenham. Who did Ireland beat in those two competitive matches of the 2016 Six Nations? The perennial whipping boys of the competition, Italy, and everyone’s second favourite side in Scotland. It’s great because Ireland beat them and everything was rosy again.

The argument is made by one point. If you ask a rugby fan who is going to win the Six Nations, you’ll hear the three main contenders: Ireland, England and Wales. France will be some people’s picks. No one will ever choose Italy or Scotland. If you ask a rugby fan who’s going to finish bottom of the Six Nations, it’s going to be Italy or Scotland. Every year, without fail.

So what’s the hype about? Four sides playing each other, one sided games more often than not, and players more concerned about potential quarter or semi finals in the European Champions Cup. If you need to see how a small rugby tournament with four teams should be run, just look at the Rugby Championship in the Southern hemisphere.

2015 was a World Cup year. The biggest winning margin in the Rugby Championship was 25 points (Argentina 9-34 Australia). There were three Six Nations games with a higher margin than that. All involved Italy and yet Scotland still finished last. So the stronger sides in Europe heading into the World Cup were the usual suspects. They were going to be the ones to wrestle New Zealand’s would-be crown off them.

Four quarter-finals at the Rugby World Cup. The four Rugby Championship sides against three of the stronger Six Nations and Scotland. Quarter-final number one: Wales against South Africa. The Springboks had finished bottom of the Rugby Championship and had already been beaten by Japan. Wales were the favourites – and Wales lost. One-nil to the Southern hemisphere.

Next up, the All-Blacks against France and an absolute annihilation. Fair enough, the All Blacks are the best team in world rugby, but 49 points better than the country with the European club champions?

Australia and Scotland. Heavy favourites Australia squeak by the worst European side thanks to a controversial decision in horrific conditions.

They need to drastically change how the Six Nations is marketed, played, and even structured.

And then the one that most people had nailed down as a Northern victory. Six Nations champions Ireland against the weakest of the four Championship nations – Argentina. And we all remember what happened. Overlook, overconfident and over run.

Quarter-final results: Southern hemisphere 4-0 to the Northern hemisphere, with an aggregate score of 187-86. Clearly the Six Nations was great preparation for the World Cup. It’ll be an even better preparation for a Lions tour

World Rugby can bring in as many rules as they like. Bonus points, harder tackle laws, nine points for a try. They need to drastically change how the Six Nations is marketed, played, and even structured. Should there be home and away games? Probably, but then you’d have a mess with the club rugby scene. Plus, it would delay the summer ‘tests’ or Lions tour depending on the year.

Personally, I would invite some of the ‘tier 2’ sides in. Fiji, Japan, Georgia. But then there could there be more wallopings? Perhaps, but there’d also be more competition. Keep the fixtures as they are, play each team once, winner gets the trophy. Still the potential for a Grand Slam, and more value for your money.

Can anyone honestly tell themselves that this Six Nations is important for any reason other than confirming Warren Gatland’s squad for the tour to New Zealand? Any other manager in any other sport would be questioned if you looked at Joe Schmidt’s competitive record since the start of last year.

But it’s fine – we beat the second string All-Blacks. And RTÉ got another wonderful four minute package hyping this year’s tournament. It’s almost as if their head of sport is the main commentator…

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