I must confess not to be the greatest expert on, or fan of, rugby union. I barely follow the Premiership or the European Champions Cup, and my only run-out for the college team was remarkable only for my consistent ability to fumble the ball in increasingly imaginative ways. The Six Nations is different though. As a way of filling a weekend afternoon, it is hard to rival the joys of the Six Nations. This may seem fairly contrary from a football obsessive like myself, but hear me out.
Rugby provides much more steady and constant excitement suited to an afternoon in front of the television.
Football is a brilliant spectator sport, but many of the enjoyable elements of a football match are found in the partisanship of the sport. Football, for me at least, is a game of tension, sitting on the edge of my seat desperately urging on one side or the other. Attending a game in the home crowd one feels oneself pulled into the febrile atmosphere – I remember, at my first ever Oxford United game, singing along happily to songs declaring my undying hatred for Swindon fans. This atmosphere does not necessarily come across on the television.
However, the more festive atmosphere at rugby matches is much better suited to a relaxing afternoon’s entertainment. I may have favoured sides in rugby union – England and especially Ireland – but the Six Nations is not about tension. It does not have the imminent threat of relegation, nor the endless managers fighting for their jobs, that football offers. It is more about spectacle, a celebration of sporting talent. Can you imagine England football fans, in a tight game against near rivals, singing a mellow tune like Swing Low Sweet Chariot? Neither can I.
It also maintains interest much more effectively than many forms of football – in a tight league, with only five games, every point counts. Added to this are the rivalries, for every game in the Six Nations (perhaps barring those involving Italy) has a rich history, and cultural roots stretching far back in history. This makes for both thrilling and entertaining matches, maintained by the physical exploits of the players. The changes in pace of football are part of what makes it so tense – the fact that games can be stalemates for half an hour, and then suddenly a tactical shift or moment of brilliance can transform the game into a frenetic contest – but rugby provides much more steady and constant excitement suited to an afternoon in front of the television.
The Six Nations is more about spectacle, a celebration of sporting talent.
Coupled with the way the games follow on from one another on a Saturday afternoon, urging the viewer never to shift from their comfortable chair, and my desire to forget the existence of Monday essay deadlines, Six Nations rugby provides a heady formula. I’ll see you in the pub next Saturday.