Written by guest contributor and rugby enthusiast, Paul Kitovitz
The European Six Nations Rugby championship features 15 matches played over five weekends in February and March. There are within this period two weekends when no matches take place. Countries participating are the so-called Tier 1 nations of the Northern Hemisphere: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy. Meanwhile, Tier 2 nations compete for an alternative trophy, the European Nations Cup.
In the ‘Six Nations’ each country plays the other five countries once. The venues alternate annually between home and away (‘on the road’). During the annual series, a country will either be at ‘home’ or ‘on the road’ three times. The championship is decided on the basis of the number of points awarded, four for a win, two for a draw with extra bonus points available for tries scored and ‘losing margin’. Since the competition began in 2000, England and France have won the most. However, Ireland are the current Champions. Only Scotland and Italy have failed to win a single tournament.
There is a strange ritual surrounding the matches. Beforehand, the teams line up in front of the TV cameras, while the national anthems are then played and sung. Certainly, those of England and Scotland are regarded as little more than dirges. On the other hand, the Marseillaise and the Welsh offerings are far more inspiring.
Meanwhile, the pre-match anthems in Dublin feature an additional song- the so-called ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ chant. While no one is quite sure of the origin, the Shoulder to Shoulder has become a staple of Irish rugby. During the playing of the anthem, the two lines of players lock on to their neighbors and vigorously sing and passionately sway along to Ireland’s Call. While slightly homoerotic, rugby fans have come to enjoy this pre-match display.
The championship generates huge enthusiasm within the countries concerned. All matches are televised live and generate very high viewing figures. Social media platforms are awash with opinion and analysis. Tickets to the matches are very hard to obtain. Within the competing countries, Rugby is seen as more of a ‘middle-class’ sport than say soccer. In fact, this may have once been true, but nowadays the ‘game for hooligans played by gentlemen’ has become far more inclusive, cutting across class and ethnic divides in a pleasing manner.
The game, especially in the Six Nations format, (although generating fierce rivalries) is also a vehicle, post-contest, for fellowship and reconciliation. Interestingly, rugby is the only sport in which Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic produce a combined team!
But rivalries still remain. The Celtic nations dislike England and do their best each year to deflate the arrogance associated with the country who invented the game. This is especially true of the Welsh and Scottish. Strangely, Ireland are less hostile.
Italy, on the other hand, are generally liked, perhaps due to the fact that they seldom win. On and off the pitch, the French have developed a reputation as one of the more hated sides, and have become the fashionable side to root against.
The second round will take place this weekend. There is a chance to join the many pundits in Europe who enjoy making predictions about the up and coming matches. Time then, to cast your vote!
Paul Kitovitz is the former head rugby coach at the St. Edwards School in Oxford, England. During his tenure at St. Edwards, Paul posted an impressive 73% win rate. Paul is also a featured author at Private Rugby Blog.