Rugby Championship or Six Nations?

Over the weekend, I have figured out how I can enjoy the Rugby Championship as much as I enjoy the Six Nations. Just think of the competition as having three countries participating in it and have the “All Blacks” as a bonus team. Just imagine that Australia, Argentina and South Africa are all competing for that revered number two spot in a desperate attempt to avoid the smack of a wooden spoon. Then, when it comes to playing New Zealand, just think of them as the “bonus round”, similar to Italy in the Six Nations. For example, if Argentina, Australia and South Africa all have two wins, it will be their performance against the All Blacks that will be the deciding factor.

Unlike Italy, the focus is on “damage limitation” rather than “damage implementation” when playing the All Blacks. The team that loses the least to the All Blacks has the best chance of becoming the runner up in the competition. However, if you beat the All Blacks, anything is possible as we have seen in 2015 with Australia becoming the champions. Granted, this was a shortened version of the Rugby Championship in order to make way for the world cup and the All Blacks still held onto the Bledisloe cup for another year. On the flipside, if you lose to Italy in the Six Nations, there is a good chance you could end up with the wooden spoon like France in 2013. Furthermore, when the winning of the Six Nations comes down to who has the best point difference, it usually means who got the most tries when hammering Italy (and in previous years, Scotland). Therefore, for both competitions, these “bonus rounds” can be crucial.

You are probably wondering why there is all of this talk of “bonus rounds” and the Six Nations when we are answering the question of how to enjoy the Rugby Championship. Just this weekend, we have bared witness to another Wallabies beating, courtesy of their closet neighbours. Also, to make matters worse, we have seen the Pumas claim their revenge for their loss in Kings Park stadium in round one. It’s not that I want the Pumas to suffer the smack of a wooden spoon, which I don’t, but rather that all hope of Springboks springing a surprise on the all Blacks on their home turf is dwindling. On the flipside, is it possible that the Pumas can catch the All Blacks off guard, possibly trying new combinations and blooding new players which may cause the All Blacks to slip up. The Jaguars rugby team, which is mostly made up of Argentinian internationals, did beat both the Blues and Chiefs on home soil. Then again, the all Blacks have do have incredible depth within their squad.

At this point, it seems that I despise the All Blacks. Nothing could be further from the truth. From test to test, I am amazed at the skill the team displays and how with any slight chance, they can punish a team from anywhere on the field. However, I do despise their dominance within rugby, more specifically, the rugby championship. This, of course, is not the All Blacks fault, as they can only play what is in front of them and should play to the best of their team’s ability. Therefore, the responsibility is on the other teams to match the All Blacks performance. However, this is easier said than done when playing against not only the most dominant sporting team in world rugby, but that ever existed. No team within soccer, NFL or NBA matches New Zealand Rugby’s winning percentage.

This dominance from New Zealand and their super rugby teams has proven to be a problem for the Rugby Championship and super rugby. It’s this dominance that causes the lack of competition that is essential within sporting leagues and tournaments. One can look at the Rugby Championship and argue that the tournament displays the best skill within world rugby. This may be very true, but this can also be said about the “La Liga”, which had the two best players in the two best clubs in the world. Nevertheless, more people will tune into the Barclays Premier league. Why? Competition. A league or tournament  gathers much more interest when there are four or five teams who are capable of winning the title. This is what makes the Six Nations the best rugby tournament. It’s not the skill on display, although it does still need to be a high standard, but rather that Ireland, Wales, England, France and more recently Scotland, are more than capable of beating each other. Turning our heads towards the Southern Hemisphere, there is that level of competition between Australia, South Africa and sometimes Argentina. These competitive matches is what gives the southern hemisphere tournament some life.

This just leaves the All Blacks and poor Italy. So why do we watch their matches when we have a good idea of what the result will be? Hope. As Ireland found out in 2016, it’s hard to top beating the most dominant team in not just world rugby, but in world sport. Despite all of the hammerings Australia endure from their neighbours, they understand how sweet a victory is against the “All Blacks”. Now just replace Australia with Italy and All Blacks with any Six Nations team and you can begin to understand why people attend and tune in to Italy’s matches too.

So how do you enjoy the Rugby Championship as much of the Six Nations? Firstly, realise there is competition within the tournament. I expect that the test matches between South Africa, Australia and Argentina will hold some entertainment value. Secondly, don’t be surprised if the All Blacks hit a home run in the tournament, but rather understand you are witnessing the best sporting team in the world. As seen last year, despite losing the Bledisloe cup, the Wallabies performance in the third test earned respect from both Aussie and Kiwi fans, mostly commenting on it was a “cracker” of a match. Finally, recognise that the tournament offers us an opportunity to watch the best sporting talent in the world and that is something most of us takes for granted.

Written by James O’Connor – 28/08/18