The Six Nations quiet revolution has been well underway for a number of years as World Rugby looks to jazz-up the competition to compete with the extravagant uprising in televised sport and Friday night’s France vs Italy clash is the latest installment.
In 2009 France hosted Wales in front of 80,000 fans in the Stade de France, a then record television audience for a game in France of around six million viewers. On that historic night in February, France turned around a 13-3 deficit and beat Wales 21-16 and destroyed Warren Gatland’s hopes of winning back-to-back Grand Slams.
After a considered success, the Six Nations have flirted with more Friday night fixtures but it hasn’t hit all the highest of notes in the way they might have hoped.
Friday night flight or plight?
England are not entertaining the idea of Friday night matches at Twickenham having visited the Principality in 2015 in their first weekday match. “We are not in discussions with the Six Nations about hosting Friday night matches at Twickenham,” former RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie explained last year. “We don’t generally support Friday night games at Twickenham for a variety of reasons, not least the challenge for the fans of getting to and from the match.”
Wales are also against the idea of further Friday night fixtures after Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies told Wales Online they had ‘done their bit.’ “We have told Six Nations we won’t be hosting Friday nights. I think primarily because of all the adverse criticism we do get.” Wales have played in all eight of the previous Friday night encounters.
Italy vs France
In Wales’ absence the organisers have effectively chosen the wooden spoon play-off as their showpiece match.
Neither Italy or France have won a game this year ahead of Friday’s 20:00 GMT kick off in Rome which makes the occasion all the more avoidable in terms of a sporting spectacle, although the commercial value remains.
For travelling fans a weekend in Rome is enough to excuse the absence of competitive rugby as Italy continue to reap the commercial rewards the Six Nations presents.
In 2014, the Italian Rugby Federation turned over a healthy €43 million and continue to sell over 60,000 tickets for every Test match despite winning just one Six Nations match since 2014. By comparison, Georgia turned over €7.5 million in the same year and recently less than 5,000 fans watched Georgia score seven tries in their 47-0 thrashing of Belgium in the Six Nations B.
Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather spend my Euros in quiant Rome instead of travelling beyond the Black Sea to Kutaisi.
It’s around this time of year we begin to wonder whether Georgia might be the answer to awkward questions about Italy’s continued inclusion in a tournament where they stand as much chance of winning as Eddie Jones praising a young Welsh player.
With just one win in the Six Nations since 2014, Italy’s place in the tournament, according to some, might be more suited to Georgia who are waiting patiently in the wings should the Azzurri suffer almighty stage fright.
Georgia, who are ranked 12th in the World Rankings and above Italy (14th), are continuing their procession to victory in the Rugby Europe Championship and have been drafted in by Jones to rehearse England’s scrums and line-outs.
The England head coach called in Georgia to get England competing with one of the best and ‘ugliest’ teams in the world. “We want to have the best scrum in the world and they’re the biggest, ugliest, strongest scrum pack in the world,” Jones explained.
High praise from a man who you could say knows his rugby, but does this strengthen Georgia’s Six Nations credentials?
Georgia were hoping to “make a statement” to World Rugby and the Six Nations when they played Wales but failed to score a try in November’s 13-3 defeat at the Principality Stadium, add this to the 43-16 walloping by Scotland in 2016 and it doesn’t look great.
The credentials are there in terms of ranking but markers need to be set against the top sides in the world if Georgia are to be considered as a credible Six Nations candidate. It is understood that the Georgian Rugby Union also has doubts where their future lies and they could look to compete in other franchises, according to BBC Sport.
For now it seems that tradition and commercial opportunities could be the tallest barrier standing in Georgia’s way to getting into the Six Nations, but if Italy continue to disappoint, then change should not be as far-fetched as first thought.