photo credit: Patric Morgan
The 6 nations starts this weekend and pretty much as soon as we got Christmas out of the way I’ve been itching for it to get under way. There was some talk a couple of years ago about moving it from it’s traditional place in the sporting calendar which I thing would have been a travesty. For me it signals the start of spring ! I know that it kicks off in deep winter, but as the games flow over the next few weeks it will not be long before the matches in Paris and Rome will be played in gorgeous spring sunshine and the daffs will be out in force. Once the winner has been crowned spring will be with us.
Growing up in South Wales rugby was important and it’s difficult I think for those who are not from South Wales to appreciate how much rugby means to that area and in a wider context to Wales as a whole. I now live in Leeds which is of course league country even though Stuart Lancaster has brought the England squad up to train in the city but there is none of the buzz around the championship that you would get back in South Wales. At the comp where I went to school no one was permitted to play anything else other than rugby, both of our PE teachers played at a good level – one scrum half for Newport and the other full back for Cardiff so we got taught the basics well. I was totally rubbish way too small and cowardly, although I can still ping out a decent spin pass, but a love of the game was instilled. It was of course all amateur in those days but as we got older mates who were good got paid boot money whereby while they were showering after a game an envelope of cash was placed in their boots – not much but it paid for a night out. Even at the top level there was not huge amounts of cash swilling about, players got taken care of by big companies in the area, but they would live amongst the fans not in some gated community somewhere.
When 6 nations (or 5 as it was then) came around the sense of anticipation was palpable everywhere, even if at the time Wales were in a slump after failing to kick on after the great team of the 70’s. It was one of the very few times I would see my dad get agitated as he would desperately want to get back from taking my mum to get the weekly shop so that he could move his chair into prime viewing spot in front of the tele. I was incredibly fortunate in that my neighbour was a Newport club member and always seemed to rustle up a ticket (which were like gold dust) for me so that on match day I travelled down to Cardiff and stood on the heaving East Terrace at Cardiff Arms Park intoxicated not by alcohol in those days but by the sheer noise and theatre of it all.
The theatre, drama and rivalry underpinned by the historical reference points that exist between the nations make the tournament what it is and despite both England and France having vastly more numbers and finance the tournament remains a difficult one to predict. As Italy showed in beating France last year any of the teams are capable of beating any other and that unpredictability, which is a key cornerstone of any sporting contest, is certainly apparent as we head into the 2012 contest. 3 countries are under new coaches, England have taken the broom to their squad, Wales appear decimated by injuries so with the Irish provinces going so well in European competition all fingers should point to the Irish winning it. My head says France followed by Ireland but my heart as always will be routing for the staggeringly impressive Sam Warburton (pictured) to lead his depleted Wales squad to victory. Whatever happens though I will love every minute of it.