Domestic V International
The effect of the Six Nations on club rugby. I’m sure I am not the only person who is absolutely buzzing about the start of the Six Nations, the world’s best annual rugby union tournament, in a few short weeks. Three English away games, a world cup quarter-final and semi-final rematch, and the possibility of any team finishing last. But with Saracens F.C. voicing their concern about the timing of the tournament, is there any way of pleasing everyone?
There is an argument for a winter break or perhaps the postponement of the league whilst the tournament is in progress. This would allow for the cream of the European crop to come together to play each other at the start of the year, and allow a break for some players. This would also mean that any injured players would not miss as much of the tail end of the season and that call ups to squads would not come with the same old grumbles from disgruntled fans, unhappy at how their team’s top players have been pillaged from their starting line ups which very little notice.
It was proposed earlier this week that in 2015, the start of the Aviva Premiership would be delayed until after the Rugby World Cup pool stages, or potentially a group of matches would be played before. The French teams did not start playing each other until after their national team had returned. However the French don’t play an equivalent of our LV= cup and therefore have caught up with our teams on the number of games played already. Perhaps dropping the LV= cup would solve some of the problems faced by the English and Welsh clubs. The only problem with the removal of this tournament is that some clubs see it as one of the best ways of getting silverware to the club. Clubs that may not always be contenders for the Premiership or the Pro 12 often attempt to win this trophy. It also brings in the financial benefits that having more than one sponsor and more television rights does. Therefore that is not a viable option.
There are of course many benefits to the Six Nations. It allows for some of the younger players, or reserve team players to get a chance to prove themselves, it’s through tournaments like the Six Nations that players like Manu Tuilagi came to the forefront among people less familiar with rugby, through his sparkling club form. It also allows for some of the weaker teams to take points off the stronger teams and allow for a more exciting end to season at the bottom of the table. Yet the table has arguably already been turned this season by the World Cup.
The Six Nations is also plainly and simply, a wonderful competition. It is the perfect stage for all six teams to showcase some of their young talent and to play for the annual bragging rights that come with victory. Last year Warren Gatland left some previously key Welsh players at home so that he could pick a more youthful team, and look where that got him. Wales may not have had the best six nations, (they came fourth, equal on points with the Irish and the French) but they were many people’s team of the World Cup, cruelly knocked out by a contentious decision from half Gallic – half Celtic, referee Alain Rolland. This removal of the young players clearly affected the Welsh teams, as none of them could break into the top 3 and proves the power of the young player at both club and international level.
The Six Nations 2011 Champions
At this year’s Six Nations Stuart Lancaster can prepare a team for the future, whether it is for himself, or the bookies favourite Nick Mallett. They allow players who would not have previously shone next to their capped brothers to become the stars of the show. Prior to the World Cup, many observers would not have known who Owen Farrell was but now he is a shoe in into the England squad for anyone with any understanding of rugby.. Many forwards are also set to take their chance in this year’s Six Nations. With Wales having already blooded Toby Falateau, Sam Warburton, and Luke Charteris perhaps now would be a good time for the other home nations to do the same.
It is the youth of rugby that will define the future of it. But with increasing pressure applied by the clubs on the IRB, perhaps it is time for a change. Some reformers have suggested the addition of other teams to the six nations, perhaps adding Romania, who despite failing to make it past the group stages, had an excellent campaign against England and Scotland, as well as maybe Georgia, Holland, or Russia. The only problem with is that the creation of a knockout would lead to some teams losing their players for longer, causing more tension, as well as the loss of television revenues, as more people are likely to tune in to the bigger games.
If this does not work, then perhaps the removal of the Six Nations during world cup years, so that if after 2015, the Premiership and Pro 12 decide to start during the competition, then clubs like Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers, and the new boys, Saracens, won’t lose more than ten senior players for almost a third of the season. Again, this is unlikely because of the loss of television rights from it. Whatever happens in the future, by recruiting youth into the international squads, whilst it may do some harm at club level to the standings, there is sufficient time at the end of the season to recuperate some points and most teams have very good reserves, and should be able to cope with the non-European players from which they have to pick from *cough* Sarries *cough*.
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