It’s a bold statement from any Northern Hemisphere rugby fan, and maybe it’s not strictly true, ‘really dislike’ would be a better way of describing my feelings towards the Six Nations, but February/March isn’t exactly a time circled in red on my rugby calendar.
It’s not even the Six Nations as a competition, I actually quite enjoy the festival of international rugby for what it is. The issue is with the scheduling, right in the middle of the club rugby season. Basically I really dislike the organisers of the Six Nations, but that’s not a clickbait article title!
For two months every February and March, fans of professional club rugby collectively groan as all of our top European internationals are snatched away for the international window and second rate teams, or even third rate teams in the case of some Pro14 sides, are put out to compete in the domestic leagues.
Obviously this massively devalues the competition in the sense that it decreases the quality of the players and rugby on show, as well as giving an unfair advantage to teams with fewer internationals or more overseas players.
What goes to piss off us club rugby fans further is that people across Wales are suddenly massive rugby fans. The four professional clubs average around 25,000 fans between them at a rough estimate for home games, yet Wales get 75,000 at the Milennium Stadium plus countless more in pubs and houses around the country who’d all love to be there.
They all read the never ending live updates and lists that Wales Online pump out in the eight weeks of Six Nations, from what boots Dan Biggar is wearing, to what Ken Owens has for breakfast. If either the fans or media were as interested in club rugby we’d be in a lot better state.
Now it’s not that I don’t like the Six Nations in a way that I won’t watch it, as a general rugby fan I’ll watch any and all rugby, but I do struggle to enjoy it as a proper fan though as I’ve never been taken in by the clamour for ‘Team Wales’.
The plastic fans, the fact it gets in the way of club rugby, a permanent worry that Cardiff Blues players will get injured and just how long it lasts makes it difficult to enjoy, for me.
In my ideal rugby world there would be no club rugby carrying on through this tournament. Either the Autumn or Summer Internationals would be scrapped as a money making farce, and the rest of the season would be slightly re-jigged.
We could play club games from the start of September right through to the start of January, getting a good number of league games in alongside the European pool stages completed. Then from mid-January to the end of February, at the latest, it’d be the Six Nations, before back to the club season. Bit of international tour action in June, before a summer holiday.
Or, the club season could begin in September through to October, have November for internationals, return to finish the domestic season between December and early May before a later Six Nations as a season finale.
The club game is growing almost everywhere. Super Rugby is now massive, spanning five countries. The French Top14 has money and stars galore, while the English Premiership is fantastically competitive. The Pro14 is struggling to keep up though and are stunted by the Autumn Internationals and Six Nations interruptions more than their Northern Hemisphere rivals.
The time has come for a calendar change as the professional era properly finds it’s feet. National teams can work with clubs properly, avoiding disputes between clubs in different leagues having opposing rules on international player releases. The club game will grow which will lead to better quality international players produced, and ultimately more competitiveness at that level.
Hopefully fans would subsequently be more attracted to the Welsh professional club game as they could seriously challenge in the league and Europe. Will it happen? Well, when I originally wrote this blog the answer was a solid no. As things stand though it does seem more likely, with World Rugby taking preliminary steps towards a global rugby calendar.
If only we lived in a world where we didn’t need multiple internationals to fund the WRU purse!
Anyway, I have decided that I will make a concerted effort to actively support and get excited by Team Wales over the next few weeks, although how long that will last is yet to be seen, as a loss to Scotland will basically end Six Nations hopes with away trips to England and Ireland on the horizon.