CHRIS FOY: It may be time to ditch the 'H-word' in the Six Nations

CHRIS FOY: It may be time to ditch the ‘H-word’ in the Six Nations, but intense rivalries are what the tournament is all about and must not be dampened

  • The time may have come to drop ‘hate’ from the Six Nations rivalries
  • However, antipathy between teams is a key factor in the tournament’s appeal
  • It cannot be allowed to become a series of sanitised ‘friendlies’

The time has come to ask an uncomfortable, polarising question, with profound ramifications for the Six Nations. Is hate a crime?

In the narrow context of this particular tournament, the answer should be ‘no’, but with a giant asterisk attached. It may be time to ditch the inflammatory H-word, which increasingly jars with modern sensitivities.

This has become a talking point again due to recent events. Without raking up something which caused a lot of upset, comments were made about Welsh hatred towards the English and it ignited a storm of protest in many quarters. There were even some sinister claims that it amounted to racism.

Let’s be clear, it is an inescapable factor which simmers throughout the Championship every year. However it is packaged and labelled, it is there. Call it antipathy and that sounds more palatable, but it is a bedrock of this event, like it or not.

One of the main reasons that fans keep coming in their tens of thousands and why ratings remain so high is that there is an endless appetite for the annual resumption of historical rivalries and hostility. Take that away and the tournament loses part of its precious soul.

Rivalries between teams in the Six Nations are a huge part of the tournament’s appeal

In the past, ‘antipathy’ was a means of making up for a quality deficit. The spectacle wasn’t often great, but crowds and viewers savoured the volatility of old enemies colliding.

That is no longer the case as the world’s top two teams — Ireland and France — are setting standards this year, while Scotland and Italy are both improving and entertaining, after making up the numbers for so long.

So the cross-border needle is no longer the be-all and end-all, but the masses still relish the rivalries and the angst. Netflix are filming the 2023 Championship for a documentary series and there is no doubt that all the tribal tensions are part of the box-office attraction of the tournament.

England are in the cross-hairs for all their neighbours. It was ever thus. Those in the eye of the storm talk about it in matter-of-fact terms — without a sense of grievance.

When Kevin Sinfield was asked what he made of the Six Nations and the anti-England sentiment, he used the H-word freely and without any hint of outrage. When Kyle Sinckler spoke about Welsh grannies aiming rude hand gestures at the England coach in Cardiff, he did so with a jocular tone.

Murrayfield is quiet a sight to behold ahead of a clash with the auld enemy, that antipathy cannot be lost

Everyone who is involved knows that this is all just part of the familiar Championship tapestry. That journey into the heart of the Welsh capital is a hostile experience for England in particular, but it has been the basis for so many vivid anecdotes over the years.

Similarly, when the ‘auld enemy’ arrive at Murrayfield behind the slow-walking bagpipers, they are met by noisy, partisan passion designed to unsettle them. It is quite something to behold, even for those on the receiving end.

It would be a pity to try to douse these fires in the name of political correctness. If the police or stewards started having to eject anyone guilty of bad-mouthing the English, or any other visitors, some of the famous arenas would be near-deserted.

Nobody needs to be wildly offended by any of this and start calling it something it is not. It is just an undeniable fact of the Six Nations that the Celts want to upset the bigger neighbours who used to lord it over them and that is an engrained dimension in the complex heritage of these islands.

By all means, discourage the H-word which sits so awkwardly with the terminology clean-up which is a trend in wider society.

But please let’s allow this sporting volcano to keep rumbling and erupting, or this favoured landmark in the oval-ball landscape will turn into a bland, sanitised series of ‘friendlies’. What an awful thought.

 Crazy calendar robbed us of Ford v Farrell

The encounter between the Premiership’s top two sides in Salford symbolised the calendar-clash nonsense which must be resolved if rugby is to truly thrive. This should have been a glittering showpiece of the domestic game. 

There were two impressive line-ups on show on Sunday but seven key players were unavailable as they were in Steve Borthwick’s England camp and watching from afar.

Scheduling madness robbed the Premiership of an epic showdown between Owen Farrell (left) and George Ford (right) 

Just imagine, it should have been George Ford v Owen Farrell in a marquee playmaker match-up. It should have been Jonny Hill up against the man who, not so long ago, he partnered in England’s second row — Maro Itoje. It should have been one or both Currys — Ben and Tom — locking horns with Ben Earl.

It should have been Bevan Rodd striving to outshine Mako Vunipola on the other side of the front row.

There was still plenty of class on both sides, but the sport cannot carry on in this way, with important fixtures diminished by the entirely avoidable absence of fit players.

 England should look beyond Twickenham

France’s fixtures in the Six Nations next year will not be at the Stade de France as it will be the centrepiece of the Olympics in Paris and has to be prepared accordingly. 

It is an opportunity for the French federation to take big games to the provinces, which is a regular policy each autumn anyway. 

It’s a shame it does not happen in England too, but the difference is that — unlike their Gallic counterparts — the RFU own their stadium and Twickenham is an 82,000-seat cash machine. 

Of course, especially in the aftermath of Covid, the need to maximise revenue is indisputable and understandable, but nevertheless there should be a greater commitment to moving the national team out of the capital from time to time. 

England should consider playing international games away from Twickenham at grounds such as Ashton Gate

In the southern hemisphere, there is a rotation system around different venues throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which allows the wider population to be more connected to their teams. 

England are unique in having their own grand home, but also have compelling alternatives to stage games. 

They should have taken a pre-World Cup fixture to Bristol or Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds. 

Greater accessibility is vital, in the quest for more popularity.

Source: Read Full Article