SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: This could be the best Six Nations in history
SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: This could be the best Six Nations tournament in history… despite the RFU’s shambles and the off-field controversies surrounding Welsh and Scottish rugby
- The upcoming Six Nations has the potential to be the best tournament in history
- This could be the case despite the recent controversies involved in the sport
- There’ve been allegations of sexism and misogyny in Welsh and Scottish rugby
I’ve never known so much negative publicity about rugby ahead of a Six Nations — and each of the unions from the participating countries is culpable to some degree.
The RFU’s bungling introduction and then review of a new tackle-height law at grassroots level in England has been shambolic.
Welsh rugby has been rocked by allegations of sexism and misogyny. The same issues have hit Scottish club rugby.
The powers that be at Murrayfield are not covering themselves in glory with the way they have handled the death of Siobhan Cattigan, a former Scotland women’s player who tragically passed away after struggling with concussion.
France have been hit by corruption claims on the eve of their own World Cup, with federation president Bernard Laporte in the dock, and the racism suffered by Cherif Traore was a stain on Italian rugby. Ireland are also under pressure to get more women on to their board. It is a sorry state of affairs.
Owen Farrell (left) and Jamie Ritchie (right) will go head-to-head this weekend at Twickenham
That’s why rugby needs a great Six Nations now more than ever. Fortunately, I think we’ll get exactly that. Most other sports would die for the fervent following the Six Nations receives. This is a brilliant time of year for rugby supporters.
Make no mistake, apart from the World Cup — which only takes place every four years — the Six Nations is the best rugby tournament in the world.
It is a bit like Wimbledon. Every summer, tennis becomes incredibly popular for a two-week period because of the action in SW19.
With the Six Nations, for the next two months or so, rugby is front and centre in the news and a big talking point among the general public, when at other times of the year it is not.
The sport has to embrace that and deliver a championship which shows just how good rugby can be. I want to see great tries, attacking play and new heroes created.
The 2023 Six Nations — with a terrestrial television audience — is a wonderful platform for the players to strut their stuff. Rugby remains a popular sport, but it is nowhere near the likes of football and cricket, and can never assume it will always have a place in the hearts of the nation.
The negative headlines we’ve had recently won’t help the sport one iota. And a brilliant Six Nations won’t solve all the issues the countries are experiencing off the field, but it will go a long way to painting rugby in a more positive light. It is badly needed.
Luckily, we could see the best Six Nations in history.
Warren Gatland will be hoping to steer Wales to success after replacing Wayne Pivac
Rugby is fortunate to have great players and coaches as its ambassadors. Warren Gatland, Steve Borthwick and Andy Farrell are big-name leaders and I’ve been pleased to see them not engaging in any stupid rhetoric. It is often called ‘mind games’ but in my opinion it is total nonsense.
They have talked openly and honestly about the strength of their teams without focusing on themselves. That’s how it should be. The same is true of Gregor Townsend, Fabien Galthie and Kieran Crowley. On the playing front, the opening weekend of the Six Nations is set up beautifully.
What an opportunity for the likes of Marcus Smith, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Finn Russell, Jac Morgan, Caelan Doris and many, many others to stamp their mark. I want to see new players step forward.
It was interesting to read last week about the 50th anniversary of Sir Gareth Edwards’ famous Barbarians try against New Zealand. We’re still talking about it half a century later.
The challenge I’d like to lay down to the players taking the field this year is to produce something equally as memorable and which will be part of rugby folklore forever, in the same way Edwards’ try is and always will be.
Marcus Smith is just one of the England stars who can make a big impression at the Six Nations
Everyone involved in this Six Nations must recognise they have a responsibility to deliver a product rugby can be proud of.
I won 21 caps for England but only played in one game I look back on now and think of as especially memorable. That was winning the Grand Slam in Scotland in 1980.
Our win over Wales at Twickenham that same year was a good example of a game I regret. We won 9-8 but it was an instantly forgettable match. What I hope to see this year is matches which stand the test of time.
This Six Nations is beautifully set up. Wales against Ireland in the opening game has so many stories and layers to it. I can’t wait for that one and believe Wales will edge it.
Steve Borthwick’s England side will have an exciting encounter with Scotland on Sunday
That prediction hasn’t gone down well with my Irish friends, but I believe the return of Gatland as head coach will be a crucial factor for Wales and they are always a very difficult side to beat at home. Also, Ireland haven’t won a Six Nations game in Cardiff since 2013.
After that, it’s England’s chance to lay down a marker against Scotland and forge a new era under Borthwick.
England are starting afresh, but that is a hugely exciting prospect. Scotland have won three of the last five meetings between the sides. They won’t be daunted about coming to Twickenham.
Whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll see some hugely exciting rugby. God knows we need it.
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