On February 4th Kieran’s Irish pub begins its coverage of the 2017 Six Nations Rugby championship and, just like a well-constructed jigsaw, the pieces are beginning to fall into place. The tournament always garners great interest in the Twin Cities and is one of the most popular events in Cara Irish Pubs sporting calendar. The championship opens with Ireland visiting Edinburgh and closes on March 18th with Ireland hosting England the day after St. Patrick’s Day.
Many people attending the Six Nations for the first time are presently surprised how competitive and tribal the respective groups of fans are and yet how good natured everybody behaves. For people uninitiated in the tournament it would be appropriate to give a brief synopsis of the history.
The Six Nations Rugby Championship is an annual international competition involving six European countries: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The current Champions are England, having won the 2016 Tournament. The winners of the Six Nations Championship are sometimes unofficially referred to in the media as the European Champions or Northern Hemisphere Champions.
The Six Nations has evolved over the years since its inception in the mid-19th century.
- Home Nations Championship (1883-1909), England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
- Five Nations Championship (1910-1999), France entered the tournament
- Six Nations Championship (2000-present), Italy entered the tournament.
The first Rugby International was played on 27 March 1871 between England and Scotland in Edinburgh (Scotland won)
Current World Rankings (New Zealand #1)
If a team wins all its games, they are said to have won a “Grand Slam”. Victory by any home nation over the other three Home Nations is a “Triple Crown”.
England are the record holders for outright wins of the Home Nations, Five Nations and Six Nations tournaments, with 27 titles. Since the Six Nations era started in 2000, only Italy and Scotland have failed to win the Six Nations title, although Scotland was the last outright winners of the Five Nations.
The Six Nations committee have announced there will be a bonus-point system in the 2017 championship to “encourage and reward try scoring and attacking play”. Last season it was two points for a win, but that will become four – plus a bonus point for four or more tries. A losing team could pick up two bonus points – one if they score four or more tries and another if they lose by fewer than seven points. A team that wins the Grand Slam – all five games – gets three extra points. Teams that draw will now get two points each with a similar bonus point available for high scoring.
The system – already used in the World Cup, English Premiership, Pro12 and the National Rugby Championship in Australia – will also be trialed in the Women’s Six Nations and the Under 20s Six Nations championships. The first game of this season’s men’s Six Nations is Scotland against Ireland at Murrayfield on 4 February, followed by holders England against France at Twickenham on the same day. England won their first Grand Slam in 13 years in last season’s competition.
John Feehan, chief executive of Six Nations said: “The drama and excitement of the last weekend of the Six Nations championship is unique and is, more often than not, driven by a number of teams on equal championship points all competing for first place on the table. “It is important for us to ensure that any bonus point system which is implemented would not, in any way, take away from this unique dynamic. “At the same time, we are also conscious that we must reward try scoring and an attacking style of play that will deliver more tries and greater rewards for fans and players alike.” The trial will be “evaluated” after next year’s competitions.
If the new bonus-point system was applied to the results in last season’s championship, each side would remain in the same finishing position.
There have been numerous topics of conversation concerning this year’s tournament. The two most recurring themes are relocation of the games to later in the calendar year and, a little more contentiously, promotion and relegation from the six. Both have merits. World Rugby wants a streamlined global season to safeguard players against injury from being overworked through the sheer number of games. The idea is mooted by the World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont. The former England captain was elected to the chairmanship last May and clearly stated that re-structuring was going to be a priority. Beaumont has received endorsements from a number of influential people within the game. The idea to move the Six Nations to April has the backing of England’s Rugby Players’ Association (RPA). The RPA chairman, and Northampton forward, Christian Day said he hoped Beaumont could make it happen.
Conor O’Shea, the new coach of Italy in this year’s Six Nations also added his weight to the argument. The former Harlequins director of Rugby is ‘hugely worried” about the pressure that players are put under. “Something has to give in the longer term,” he told BBC sport in a recent interview. “It’s a big jigsaw that needs a few people to put their egos to one side and fix the problem.” Six Nations chief executive John Feehan has previously branded the Championship’s February to March slot “non-negotiable.” Hmmmmmm, could this be one of O’Shea’s egos at work?
The second and most talked about point in all Six Nations discussions are the subjects of promotion and relegation. If the Six Nations committee and the International Rugby Board (IRB) are seriously and genuinely concerned about development, then a change in format is required. Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000 and have finished bottom on 11 occasions. In all, the “azzurri” have lost 72 of their 85 games in the tournament. Visiting the “eternal city” to watch Rugby can be a wonderful event and who does not want to escape a chilly British Isles in March? However, much more is at stake.
The performances of Georgia and Romania in the 2015 World Cup have increased the pressure on the Six Nations committee. Georgia won 2 games and lost 2 games in their group. Romania won 1 and lost 3, however, it’s worth noting they played France, Ireland and Italy in group D. They lost all three. An old coaching mentor back in the U.K once said “to develop, progress and succeed you need to play tough games.” Last year over 50,000 people saw Georgia beat Romania 38-9 in the European Nations Cup. The two teams have shared the last ten tournaments, with Georgia winning the last six in a row. Visiting Tiblisi in March would require greater sartorial considerations than strolling around the coliseum in Rome, however, those are not the points to consider. The Georgians are currently ranked 12th in the World and sit above the likes of Samoa and Tonga and, coincidentally, Italy. Italy currently sit in 13th in the World rankings. Georgia’s second place finish in the 2015 European Under-18 Championship which, by the way, included the Six Nations teams, adds further cause for conversation.
Naturally, all these words, conjecture and opinions don’t sit easily in stout Italian hearts and minds. The inspirational Italian captain, and one of the greatest players in World Rugby, Sergio Parrise, made his claim in a BBC interview last year. “You think a federation like Ireland or France is going to take a risk? Or is it just because we are Italy”? With all due respect to the Italian great. Once again there is more at stake. Parrise continued to defend Italy’s position in the same interview, but in this writer’s opinion he actually strengthened Georgia’s cause. “I think we need to remember what has happened in the past” continued Parrise.” We are really respectful of all the nations like Georgia and Romania and at their level they show a lot of progress but they haven’t got the results we have. They haven’t beaten France, they haven’t beaten Ireland twice”. On the face of that statement the Italians provide a seemingly powerful counter argument. However, all is not what it seems.
The above mentioned Italian victories span 16 years and the Italians are placing emphasis on one off performances rather than any consistent improvement. Sergio Parrise is correct in making the assertion that Georgia have not beaten France and Ireland. Good reason for that: they don’t play these teams outside a World Cup every four years. Italy, on the other hand, play against these teams every year. Something the Georgians would dearly love to do. Parrise’s argument may have gathered more traction if he would have mentioned Scotland in the same breath.
The Scots have also struggled in the last few years. However, two victories in last year’s championship, against Italy and France, gave them a little “cushion” in the promotion and relegation arguments. Also, they were desperately unlucky against Australia in RWC 2015 and will enter this year’s tournament in a confident frame of mind. However, finishing bottom would shift the pressure from Rome to Edinburgh. Scotland are founder members of the tournament and first winners of a Rugby test. These are wonderful facts and statistics to hold, but we should say that longevity and history are not always guardians of change.
The Six Nations always brings to the table more than their fare share of talking points and none more so this year than the two above. It also brings wonderful entertainment and we eagerly await the start of this year’s tournament.
2017 Six Nations fixtures
Saturday 4th February – Scotland v Ireland (8:25am local unless stated)
Saturday 46th February – England v France (10:50am)
Saturday 11th February – Italy v Ireland (8:25am)
Saturday 11th February – Wales v England (10:50am)
Sunday 12th February – France v Scotland (9:00am)
Saturday 25th February – Scotland v Wales (8:25pm)
Saturday 25th February – Ireland v France (10:50am)
Sunday 26th February – England v Italy (9:00am)
Friday 10th March –Wales v Ireland (2:05pm)
Saturday 11th March – Italy v France (07:30am)
Saturday 11th March – England v Scotland (10:00am)
Saturday 18th March – Scotland v Italy (7:30am)
Saturday 18th March – France v Wales (9:45am)
Saturday 19th March – Ireland v England (12:00pm)