Forget the big picture, the Six Nations is all that matters

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On the relentless treadmill that is modern professional rugby, the status of the Six Nations has been diluted somewhat in recent years. This is not to say there is a lack of enthusiasm among supporters, far from it. Yet the majority of discussion in pubs and papers seems to revolve around how each team or player is going to perform in the context of ‘The Big Picture’, whether it be the World Cup or the Lions. Words such as ‘building’, ‘transition’, ‘progress’, ‘development’ are prevalent and most of these are clearly positive things. The implication though is that winning the Six Nations is no longer much of an end in itself, but is merely a staging post to push on to bigger and better things.

Why might this be? It may be that this is a peculiarly English affliction. After all, Ireland had to wait 60 years for a Grand Slam and rightly celebrated it as the huge achievement it was. Wales regard supremacy over their neighbours as one of the greater aspirations and, without being too harsh, Scotland and Italy cannot look far beyond achieving respectability at the moment.

However Wales followed up their Grand Slam last year by taking a full strength team down to Australia in the hope of claiming a significant Southern Hemisphere scalp. That was the action of a team who felt that the Grand Slam was only the precursor to greater things to come. They promptly lost 3-0. In fact Wales, England and Ireland, who finished first, second and fourth respectively in the Six Nations managed no wins and a solitary draw in 9 test matches against the Southern Hemisphere big three last summer.

This may point towards another explanation for the Six Nations perhaps lacking the status it once held – the standard is not actually that high. The teams at the upper end of the table are the standard-bearers for European rugby yet they struggle to compete with rugby’s true big-hitters. Winning the Six Nations may therefore no longer be considered the mark of a true global contender. The increased regularity of fixtures with the Big Three makes those the true tests, the true barometers for the status of a team.

An unfortunate effect of this focus on the big picture is that it provides teams with a ready-made excuse. Every loss comes with a ‘but’ and an often infuriating explanation of the ‘positives’ to be taken. Again it is as though victories are a ‘nice-to-have’ but are not as important as ‘moving in the right direction’, however painfully slow that progress may be. You never hear such platitudes from New Zealand or South Africa.

It is hard to know whether this is a cause or an effect of the inconsistency shown by the European sides in recent years. The fluctuation in results between international windows, from Six Nations to summer tour to autumn internationals back to Six Nations has been vast. Coaches and players bang on about ‘consistency of performance’ but what about consistency of results? Success begets success. Win now and the future becomes a lot easier. A team that knows how to win come what may is far more likely to challenge the Big Three than one who puts together a few mesmerisingly pretty passages but goes missing when the going gets tough.

Of course much of this ‘big picture’ thinking revolves around the four year cycle of the World Cup. An unfortunate knock-on effect of that fabulous tournament has been the diminishing of much of the other international rugby which is played, particularly in the 18 months after each tournament. This is highly regrettable and fortunately rugby has established competitions such as the Six Nations to prevent the international game going the way of football’s mishmash of uninspiring fixtures.

But the point is that the Six Nations must not be taken for granted. Who knows what is going to happen in the next 3 years and to talk down the importance of today’s matches in that context is a nonsense. The home nations have no significant internationals in their own right for seven months after this so talk of momentum and the future must be ignored as that is too long a hiatus to maintain it.

This article might sound a little down on the Six Nations but it is far from it. It wants the status of that tournament to be elevated back up to the level it deserves. My wish for this year’s edition is that every win is fought for tooth and nail and that there are no weak excuses about ‘progress’ from the main challengers (with apologies to Italy and Scotland, I am talking about the others here). Let there be no talk of World Cups and very little of Lions. Winning each game it is the be all and end all, winning this tournament here and now is everything and should be treated as such. The biggest winner then would be the Six Nations itself.

By Stuart Peel

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26 comments on “Forget the big picture, the Six Nations is all that matters

  1. France
    England
    Ireland
    Wales
    Scotland
    Italy

    Of course it won’t end up in that order but that’s my prediction.

  2. Strange article. Get what you’re saying but I don’t believe for one minute that every game in the 6 nations is always “fought for tooth and nail”, don’t worry about that.
    Talk of consistency and progress and building are just natural answers to media questions about the future, considering the match they have just won or lost…is in the past.

  3. I think Scotland are going to do better than expected this year. 4th with an outside possibility of 3rd is my prediction.

    • Ahead of who? Scotland’s team looks alright, but I can’t see them beating England, Ireland, France or Wales. You never know though.

      • Agreed. New coaching set-up and 10 uncapped players in the squad? Not a particulalryl promising combination. Mind you, they have been settled for the past few years under Robinson, and look where that got them. So maybe you’re right, this could be their year! (It definitely won’t be).

  4. The World Cup gets all the attention with its four year cycle – but it’s often very disappointing. Sure there are some great matches and great moments and every fan treasures those times, especially when your team wins. But the truth is that very often the games are either complete mismatches or boring, conservative slug fests, as both teams are simply desparate not to lose. There are actually very few really good games for the neutral and many low quality irrelevant games.

    With the 6 Nations, it’s different because almost every game is relevant for every fan – because every game affects your team.

    I much prefer it to either the WC or the autumn internationals.

  5. Love the Six Nations, and agree with the article, in a sense – all this over-hyping of the world cup even now (with 2 and a half years still to go) gets tiresome. The Six Nations matters, it’s a trophy which everyone wants to win. And, like has been said above, the matches are more exciting than the WC and more meaningful than the AIs (although both of those are enjoyable in their own ways).

  6. Wales
    France
    England
    Ireland
    Scotland
    Italy

    Look, I tried to be rational but it just didn’t come out. No worries about the importance of the 6N from my point of view, still the pinnacle of all sport for me. Hence my inability to countenance anything other than Wales coming up from the depths to surprise everyone and win it again…. May as well enjoy the buildup.

  7. I think rationality is generally impossible here, but my guess would be

    England
    Ireland
    France
    Wales
    Italy
    Scotland

    The fact that France have to play both England and Ireland away counts against them in my view.

    Think Ireland will have to much power for a welsh side that is missing many through injury and who seem a bit short on form

    Would be surprised if Italy didn’t win at least a game – they will probably target Wales at home

    Scotland will flatter to deceive (again). Never been convinced by Scott Johnson and his comments the other day came across as a little desperate

  8. If you are a supporter of any of the teams in the 6 nations then this tournament means so much. All this talk about 4 year cycles, on an upward trajectory, building for the future etc goes out of the window when February rolls around and you are in the bars, front rooms or stands watching the best of European rugby coming together for a series of 80 minute battles across a number of weeks.

    People might sneer about the importance of the 6 nations, or they might belittle the quality, but for pure drama and sense of history it cannot be beaten. For me it is the ultimate in international rugby and for 5 weekends I intend to feel every tackle, kick every goal, cheer every score and curse every decision that goes against my team. I will rub shoulders with men and women of different nationalities whether in celebration or commiseration, and I know this is the same for everyone who follows rugby. For me this is the very essence of the 6 nations.

    • Only during a World cup – the other games vs the trinations are friendlies really

      They don’t have anywhere near the passion, enjoyment and sheer spectacle that the 6 nations does.

      Would I rather England beat Australia in an autumn international or the Welsh in Cardiff during the 6 nations? Wales every time

  9. The first game is so important – if Wales beat Ireland at home it will give them so much confidence to go and possibly win it ( no Grand Slam ) can’t see Wales losing to England, Scotland or Italy but slipping up in Paris. If we lose against Ireland then i can’t think of the consequences going to France with nil confidence – could be bottom of the pile.
    Wales France
    France England
    Ireland or Ireland
    England Scotland
    Scotland Wales
    Italy Italy

    • you can’t see wales losing to england?

      this is the welsh team who just lost to Samoa, and the England team who, after beating NZ, are going in as favourites?

      • England don’t have as good record in Cardiff as they used too, or at winning away from home to seal a grand slam. I’m surprised england are favourites, I think France will blow this one away.

        France
        England
        Wales
        Ireland
        Italy
        Scotland

        • in all honesty, wales dont have that good a record in cardiff at the moment…

          i personally think that the irish have gone about things very quietly at the moment, but the players they have available, and the style of rugby they (and their regions) are playing, i reckon they could do a lot better than most people are tipping them to do.

      • No, can’t see Wales losing to England at home, IF Wales get a good atart, England have not done anything over the last year to suggest they will win, a good victory over NZ but thats it, apart from a one of ( a very good one at that )have looked average at best

        • to be honest though, Wales have not done much in the last year to to suggest that they will win. Yes, england may have had one standout game against the ABs, and also a draw in SA, but this welsh team have lost to Samoa and Argentina in their most recent outings.

          I think that the welsh will most likely find their form again in this tournament, as they always seem up for the 6Ns, but simply looking at the last run of tests, anyone who says that they cannot “see wales losing to england” clearly isnt looking properly.

          having said this, this is the 6Ns, therefore i can quite clearly see any team beating anyone.

  10. I’m inflicted by pre-tournament optimism with the 6N every year. Being Scottish this is a painful curse. I think we’re improved as a squad with the return of Johnnie Beattie and the inclusion of Visser and Sean Maitland in the back three. There are decent options through the forwards, but not much doing in midfield. Hopefully we will have enough to beat Italy (though we usually keep our worst performance for them) at Murrayfield. Any other victory would be a fair upset. I reckon France, Ireland, England will scrap it out for the top three, then Wales (sorry, but with current form, injuries and coaching), then Scotland and Italy.