The envy of the rugby world
April 3, 2000
Brian O'Driscoll announced himself in the tournament © Getty Images
And so here endeth the inaugural Six Nations Championship - bigger and better, and with a bite in the final chunk. What better way could there be to spend a few winter and spring weekends at the start of every year?
Given events at Murrayfield, one of the main talking points has again become whether Northern Hemisphere rugby is not still the poor relation of its Southern Hemisphere cousin. Well quite frankly my dear, as Rhett Butler would say, I don't give a damn. Let's savour what we've got…Scotland's victory was as compelling a sporting occasion as you could hope to see. In terms of quality it may have been well short of the top drawer, and the weather did indeed reduce England's cutting thrust but if you were watching on television, did you at any stage of the match contemplate going for a walk, or putting the kettle on.
You sat transfixed by the passion play in front of you, with a bit of venom and bile at the start, and a victory for hearts, souls and Scottish minds at the end.
You could hear them in deepest New South Wales laughing their socks off at the weather, the turn-overs and some of the abject kicking, but how much more engrossing was Murrayfield on Sunday than your average Super 12 match. They may have established the Tri Nations down-under to try to re-create what we've enjoyed for a century or more up here in the frozen north, but they know, and we should never lose sight of, the fact that this tournament, especially with Italy's inclusion, is the envy of the rugby world. Which brings us back yet again to one of the most crucial aspects of the long-running and incredible tedious row that is bedevilling the game at the moment - the structured season.
The Six Nations is a wonderful soap-opera that runs for two months and provides a focal point for the rugby world at large, and more importantly, those not spiritually attached to the sport. It is a thread that runs through the winter months - in much the same way that National Hunt racing builds to its Cheltenham crescendo. In a week when the two Tetley Bitter semi-finals, played on the same day on the same ground, are having trouble selling 22,000 tickets between them, it is incontrovertible evidence that the sport is led from the international arena downwards, and not vice-versa.
The future financial well being of the game, its profile and public perception, is secured on occasions such as those provided at Lansdowne Road and Murrayfield and not at the Majedski Stadium or The Stoop. So let's hear no more about the tail wagging the dog, and the need for the clubs to have a neat and tidy season dictating that the Six Nations gets banished to April and May because it can't be fitted in anywhere else. The timetable for the internationals should be inviolate. Everything else should fit round them. For the fans, for the media interest, but most of all, for the game.
But despite all that, one small complaint. Yes, the atmosphere at Murrayfield was special, and the pyrotechnics before the start set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. But it was a Sunday. A dreary and dreech Sunday in Edinburgh. Everyone had to go to work the next day. If you were Scottish and wanted to celebrate, you couldn't to excess. If you were English, and wanted to mourn, you couldn't cry into your lager late into the evening. You were heading for the airport and straight home.
So if the individual countries and the BBC can sort it out for the future, so that three games are played back-to-back on a Saturday, kicking off at 1.30, 3.30 and 5.30, then we'll all be happy. We'll still have the best rugby tournament in the world. We can all have a great time on a Saturday night, and the Australians will still take side-swipes at the whole thing while wishing it was theirs. They've got to wait nearly four years to defend that. Only 10 months to go till we start again.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup