Each year rugby people endlessly compare the game in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. They argue about who would win a hypothetical Grand Final between the Heineken Cup and Super Rugby champions. Similar comparisons are made between Six Nations and Tri Nations (from this year to be known as The Rugby Championship). As ever in rugby debates, objectivity is in short supply!
With the Six Nations less than a week away it is worth addressing the merits of the 2 major international tournaments. The welcome inclusion of Argentina to TRC will allow for 2 games to be played during each of the 6 weekends of the competition. A major difference between the two competitions is the home and away fixtures in the south compared to the one off annual encounters in the 6N’s.
Those south of the equator have long argued that their tournament is superior because invariably Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have been the top ranked teams in the world – after all between them they have won 6 of the 7 Rugby World Cups staged to date. Similarly, the cry will go up that the rugby is more exciting, the tries more plentiful and the entertainment at a higher level. It is indisputable that they are the powerhouses of world rugby, but that is not everything.
A major drawback to The Rugby Championship is the distances between the competing countries. The travelling supporters are limited because of the expense and the time required in making such trips. Therefore the crowds at the games while vocal are invariably home supporters with a handful of visitors. Though Argentina will prove an attractive destination for well-heeled visiting rugby supporters, it will not be an option for most. The recent RWC and Lions tours have demonstrated to those in the southern hemisphere the contribution that colourful, boisterous, visiting supporters make to the enjoyment of such occasions – not to mention the boost they provide to the local economy.
The Europeans rightly claim to have history on their side, with the first Home Nations Championship, contested by England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales in 1883 – France and Italy followed later. The rivalries are fierce and the support fanatical. For Welsh fans, the trip north to Edinburgh has always been the ultimate rugby road trip. Up to 40,000 regularly make their way from the valleys to Murrayfield for the biennial game.
The 6N’s is the only major rugby competition not to use the bonus point system and some argue that this is a mistake. However, were it to have been in use, it would have altered little in the final 6N standings in the last 10 years. It could be argued that its introduction might encourage more tries and the weaker teams would be better rewarded for narrow defeats. The powers that be have no intention of adopting it however, because they feel the current format works.
In my opinion the 6 Nations wins hands down. It delivers sport at its best – ferocious and passionate on the field and fanatical off it. It is steeped in history and provides drama without fail each year. Perhaps fewer tries are scored than in the southern hemisphere, but the battles are intense and the entertainment compelling. Bring it on!!