Virtually every day my email reminds me how few days remain until the World Cup, and proudly promises me the best World Cup ever. But on the evidence of the Six Nations so far it will take one hell of a leap of the imagination to believe that promise.
The Six Nations Championship is meant to be the shop window of European rugby union, the time for the casual rugby fan to pause and see if the product is one to catch the eye. And in a home World Cup year this is even more the case.
In my opinion the tournament is damaged goods. Those buying into rugby expect pace, excitement, some up-tempo sport – and tries… Instead the sport is relying on advertising and marketing to fool as many of the people for as much of the time as possible.
Perhaps the World Cup will be the biggest party, the best organised, and perhaps it will make the financial profits promised as the ad men flog the sport for all it is worth.
But the grim truth on the field is that the Six Nations is delivering some of the most static sport imaginable. Purists may have looked appreciatively at Ireland’s tactical mastery against England, but to this fan, putting my English rose to one side, there was nothing to entice me further into rugby’s tent to see what the sport has to offer.
Steve Hansen, the New Zealand Word Cup-winning coach, was in Europe a few weeks ago. He watched Wales’s 20-13 victory over France, and England’s 19-9 defeat by Ireland in Dublin. As a reward for the price of his air fare and match tickets Hansen saw three tries. He may have stopped short of asking for his money back, but in an interview with the Western Mail, the former Wales coach expressed his fears that spectators will be less likely to part with their money unless the game’s attacking talents are seen more often “I’ve actually got big concerns about the game at the moment, because there are not enough tries being scored, which is turning the fans away,” Hansen said.
There is seldom a time when rugby is not ruminating about some aspect or other of its arcane laws, but for a sport with ambitions of pushing back its participatory and geographical boundaries, Hansen’s words should strike a particularly harsh chord, with the World Cup only six months away.
“We are about to go into a showpiece for the game,” he said. “There are millions of people watching it and all you are going to see is people kick goals.”