This weekend sees the start of the Six Nations rugby championship when Wales line up against Italy at 2.15pm on Saturday. Completing the first round of fixtures are Ireland V Scotland a few hours later at 4.45pm and England travel to Paris to face the French at 3pm the following day (Sunday).
I will get into who is expected to win what a little later in this post. But, for now I want to ask the question: Should it become the Seven Nations? How much longer will the abilities of Japan continue to be overlooked?
Based on the previous two World Cup campaigns the Japanese probably have a bigger claim to be included in an annual major tournament than, say, Italy or, whisper it softly, Scotland.
The two major non-World Cup rugby competitions are played each year in the northern and southern hemispheres. Eight years back the southern competition, the Tri Nations, was extended to include Argentina – on merit, I’m sure. The distances the original three nations must cover are considerable now. Buenos Aires is 7,300 miles away from Sydney; 6,500 miles from Auckland and about 5,000 miles from Johannesburg. If that sounds a bit skewed, remember that the Kiwis and Wallabies will likely fly across the International Dateline to reach the Argentine capital – forget about looking at the flat map of the world, it’s misleading.
Distance, this would suggest, would not be the problem were Japan to join the Six Nations. Dublin, for example, is close to 6,000 miles away from Tokyo. No, as I understand it, the bigger question is: Would the Japan team give the current members of the Six Nations a good enough game? The answer, surely, is “yes”.
Do you need an even number of teams? Well, for every team to play each weekend, the answer, again, is “yes”. But the tournament was played happily with five nations taking part before Italy was included in 2000. Actually it was originally the four (home) nations, France joined back in 1910. If the tournament has to be an even number of teams, then Romania and Georgia are knocking on the door. Indeed, they might have a claim without even considering the Japanese (and the distances fans would have to travel would be a lot shorter)!
So what are the odds on this year’s Six Nations? Betway’s Chad Yeomans says: “World Cup finalists England are odds-on favourites to win the championship at 8/11. Ireland, Wales and France all enter the five-round competition with new head coaches and are priced at 7/2, 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. The Scots who have lost their talisman Finn Russell (through indiscipline) can be backed at 25/1 to lift the coveted trophy, with serial wooden spoon winners Italy the rank outsiders at 1,000/1.”
I have seen some stats about who were the most prolific tacklers in the Six Nations last time out. Before I reveal them I would add a caveat. It is that making lots of tackles might be a sign that your team is actually not very good and therefore always on the defensive. Some of the best goalkeepers in soccer make lots of saves because the defence in front of them is crap!
Anyhow this is what the research revealed…
|6=||Alun Wyn Jones||Wales||71|
This mean that:
- Five Scottish players made the top 14, despite (or maybe because of) Scotland finishing fifth overall last tournament
- England is similarly well represented, with four players in the top 14
- The top tackler of last year’s Six Nations tournament was also English – Tom Curry
- Grand Slam winners Wales have only three players in the top 14, with Josh Navidi missing first place by just three tackles
- France and Italy are both represented by a player each, while the Irish, who finished third overall last year, don’t have a single tackler good enough to place in the top 14.
Live Rugby Tickets also looked at which players from last year’s championship had the clumsiest mistakes recorded, to reveal which country could be most at risk of butter fingered players if included in this year’s squad.
The company added the number of handling errors and turnovers conceded by each player to create a total. They then divided the total by the minutes played by each player to discover who made mistakes most frequently.
Highlights from the research include:
- It may surprise many that Owen Farrell had the most fumbles for England last year, despite earning the most points – he made one mistake every 20 minutes and 33 seconds on average!
- Tomos Williams and Blair Kinghorn ranked as Wales and Scotland’s “clumsiest” players
- France and Ireland have the most players in the top 50, with 10 players listed from each country
- Italian player Guglielmo Palazzani was ranked as the “clumsiest” overall in last year’s Six Nations, having made one mistake every eight minutes and 46 seconds
The ticket company has also surveyed rugby fans about the desirability of having a NFL-style draft system in the Rugby Premiership. Apparently lots of fans were in favour. But I believe it’s pie in the sky and I’ll explain why in a future article.