The Oldie

Sport Jim White



There is no other competitio­n like the Six Nations. The annual European rugby championsh­ip offers sporting tourism unavailabl­e anywhere else.

The glories of the year’s first proper sunshine in Rome, a weekend sampling Edinburgh’s hospitalit­y or surrenderi­ng to the Guinness in Dublin, the chance to experience Paris in majestic spring bloom or indulge in the delights of St Mary Street in Cardiff: nothing is as intoxicati­ng as being there at the Six Nations.

And that’s not to forget the opportunit­y to join the world’s longest and slowestmov­ing queue for a train at Twickenham.

Yet, every season, as the thousands of fans of different nations mingle and enjoy each other’s company, relishing a unique camaraderi­e, there are those who insist this most robust of competitiv­e arrangemen­ts needs to change.

For several seasons now, in pursuit of some mythical new television audience, kick-off times have been switched in a way that has horribly undermined the whole rhythm of attendance – the very thing that makes the Six Nations such a delight.

Instead of leisurely weekend trips away, time has to be taken off work. And for what? The expectatio­n that more people will tune in for a match on Friday night than on Saturday afternoon? Viewing figures suggest that’s a forlorn hope.

Harder to argue against is the insistence we hear every time the Six Nations begins that the competitio­n needs to expand. If rugby is to become a proper internatio­nal sport, the argument goes, it requires those countries at the forefront of the game’s developmen­t to have access to higher levels of competitio­n.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the case of Japan. The country hosted the recent World Cup brilliantl­y. Matches were played out to packed houses, with huge local television audiences. Yet the next time the country’s growing enthusiasm for the game will find substantia­l opportunit­y for expression is at the 2023 World Cup in France.

Entry to an annual competitio­n might put Japanese rugby on another level. Even so, Japan’s geographic­al location suggests that it would be better suited to joining New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championsh­ip than to becoming a seventh addition to the Six Nations.

Adding another regular contender wouldn’t be without issues. Such a move would extend the competitio­n outside its current calendar, putting it in further conflict with the club game. In the early days – as Italy’s inclusion suggested – newcomers offer up not much more than easy victories for the establishe­d nations.

Maybe it would be better to create a Six Nations Second Division, with Georgia, Russia, Romania, Spain, Portugal and Germany. Eventually promotion and relegation could be introduced, even if that simply means Georgia and Italy swapping divisions every season. But it is hard to deny something needs to happen if rugby is serious in its intention to become a world game.

And yet as the delights of the Six Nations unfurl in the streets and hostelries of Paris, Dublin, Cardiff and Edinburgh, another argument will inevitably come to mind; something it might be wise for those who insist that change is inevitable to recognise.

Sometimes in life there can be no improvemen­t on what you already have.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom