Knocking on the Six Nations door

So the Six Nations draws to its close, as did the European Nations’ Cup. Georgia won their ninth title in 10 years by beating their similarly unbeaten rivals Romania.

Meanwhile Italy headed to Cardiff for another heavy beating at the hands of Wales. Would Italy definitely beat the Georgians in a notional promotion/relegation play-off?

A week earlier Ireland ran in nine tries against the Italians. So once more their protected Six Nations status is up for review. But should the question really be about Italy, who have provided some magical moments over the last 17 years (and Rome remains a wonderful place to visit) and deserve their chance to shine on European rugby’s biggest stage. But then Georgia and Romania would love the opportunity to show what they can do against rugby’s big boys on a regular basis.

We saw with Argentina’s World Cup campaign last autumn that there is no substitute for regular exposure to the bigger teams, which they have gained from playing in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

If the powers that be are serious about growing the world game, the Six Nations’ cosy self-appointed club must be overhauled.Conor O’Shea may well come in and oversee a swift turnaround in Italy’s fortunes. But that should not change the fact that the current state of affairs is unfair. Far better a two-group system featuring promotion and relegation, which does not just protect the interests of the current six. The Six nations’ closed-shop stance simply cannot last indefinitely.

The Six Nations committee evidently sees its responsibilities as the promoters of an event rather than the game, commerce as a priority above long-term development of European rugby, and while that remains the case England, Jones and everyone else are operating within the restrictions that it applies.

If the Six nations took a broader view it might start with bonus points, then tackle Italy-Georgia, promotion, relegation and the championship format, and then ask: how else can the game be improved?

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

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Is New Jersey Rugby’s Promised Land?

It’s probably fair to say opinions varied as to the success of the opening night of Premiership Rugby in the United States last weekend. For the record Saracens beat London Irish 26-16 but the actual result, which kept Sarries on top of the Premiership pile, and the Exiles rooted even more firmly to the bottom, seemed to be lost in the general hoopla.
Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby’s chief executive, like all good promoters, employed a few embellishments and exaggerations to label the venture a roaring success. He called it a “great match”, which it was certainly not, and even the official attendance of 14,811, seemed to this television viewer, a few thousand ahead of reality judging by the number of empty seats.
McCafferty maintained that “It’s a start. I think everybody knows how huge a market the US is and how huge a sports market it is.”
This was the first in a three –year agreement to stage matches at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, though whether London Irish are involved in the fixture next year remains to be seen, as they sit eight points adrift of safety with only six games to play.

Admittedly, the timing could have been better. It was not just that this historic occasion clashed with a moderately interesting fixture between England and Wales. The call last week by 70 “experts” for tackling to be outlawed in schools attracted plenty of debate and inevitable ridicule. But what cannot be so quickly brushed aside is the increasing number of so-called “soccer moms” in the States, parents afraid of the potential physical harm to Bradley junior from their playing American football. No doubt one of the most popular questions asked of the Premiership visitors was “Where are your helmets guys?”

Amid the usual rejoinders about American football tacklers leading with their heads with the resultant extra potential for concussions, rugby’s rulers would do well not to sound so complacent and gung ho. There are a few key areas rugby union needs to get right before it can hope to sell itself compellingly to a market already familiar with big blokes running into each other. The most obvious are the types of high hit which such players as Manu Tuilagi have made their stock-in-trade.
The England player James Haskell pointed out that teaching young kids the correct tackling technique at the right age is absolutely fundamental. And herein surely lies the key to exporting rugby union to the US. Back in the day the round ball game was introduced on premise of the likes of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer looking for a pension. Eventually, the professional game withered and died. There was a recognition that the sport would only take root if the native younger generation took it up at school level, and this tied in nicely with the “soccer mum” phenomenon. So would a new sport built around physical content encourage those same soccer moms to steer Bradley junior towards that muscular new sport on the block?

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

Six Nations thoughts on Friday Night Lights

I was one of the several millions in front of their T.V. set last Friday night watching a less than enthralling match between hosts Wales and France in Cardiff. Wales seem to have drawn the wrong end of the TV straw when it comes to hosting Friday evening games.
Last week’s was the sixth Six Nations Friday night match, the fifth in Cardiff, and Wales have featured in all six. The Principality Stadium, to give it its current moniker, is unique in being located in the heart of the Welsh capital. But getting there and home is a problem, especially with the usual Friday night revelry to contend with.
Given the experiences of last autumn’s World Cup, there would appear to be no sound logistical reasons for England not taking their turn to host a Friday game. Traffic and commuting are the hurdles commonly cited with Twickenham – so that match against Fiji last September could prove to be a one-off.
Gareth Davies, chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, told the Guardian, “We appreciate that Friday is the busiest commuter day of the week, and there have been public transport issues after matches in Cardiff.” Davies was once head of BBC Wales Sport and accepts that these fixtures are here to stay, but that other nations have to accept the load.
“Everyone has to accept that the days of all matches being played on a Saturday afternoon are gone. The television deal means matches on Fridays (and Sundays) are here to stay.”
For most of its history all Six/Five/Four Nations matches kicked off at the same time on a Saturday afternoon before broadcasters, and that means the BBC, staggered the games so all of them could be shown live. Sunday matches have been around since the 1990’s and are even less popular with travelling fans than Friday kick-offs.
But since when did the views of the fans matter? But organisers must be concerned that fans faced with Friday night hassle will decide to stay at home and watch the game on TV.
The professional protagonists on the pitch are used to playing club games at a variety of times and days of the week. Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones intimated as such when describing Friday night games as “horses for courses.”
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing ultimately,” he added. “Friday night lights can be a special thing.”
These matches are here to stay. The WRU in particular cannot afford to turn a blind eye to such a revenue stream – especially now with potential roof repairs to pay for.

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk