Now just six days away from its conclusion, the 2018 version – already won by Ireland – of the annual Six Nations tournament has yet again provided a welcome early spring diversion for both devotees of rugby union and general sports fans.
As with all of the physical contact variety, there’s always something instinctively compelling about a game which demands its participants give of their all every time they play, simply because not to do so carries a potential injury risk of its own.
Rugby union faces many challenges and problems in the 21st Century – and it is sometimes worth remembering that its professional era began only twenty-three years ago.
Despite its growing development around the world, most full-time professional (elite) clubs find it hard to turn a profit.
Nobody knows for sure, but almost certainly the ‘later in life’ physical problems attending upon former elite players are becoming greater, irrespective of whether ex-players regard these as just ‘par for the course’ and/or a price worth paying.
Only last weekend Todd Blackadder, the Kiwi head coach of Bath Rugby, publicly bemoaned the fact he had so many players out injured that in training he often has only six or seven players capable of providing ‘opposition’ during training sessions for his chosen match-day 23.
Even the Six Nations has its issues, not least of which is the danger of becoming an anachronism.
It is ironic fact that, in a world with an ever-increasing sense of global community, for all its wonderful attributes the competition is essentially a ‘blast from the past’ – a metaphorical equivalent to a contest between villages in a country in which those of every other sport are based upon counties or provinces.
I’m not suggesting an existential threat to the tournament – it is too well-established for that.
But in terms of rugby’s future it does not sit well, especially when one of its participants (Italy) is little more than a whipping-boy for the others.
Arguably, a proper European knockout tournament would make more sense and shake some of the cartel-like attitudes of the ‘first nation’ hegemony that currently rules – or is it hinders – the sport’s global development.
In the meantime, however, we can carry on reveling in the glorious uncertainties of Six Nations matches – see here for a link to a piece by Robert Kitson that appears today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN