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The agony and the ecstasy

Many will agree that rugby in the South is the exciting brother to its Northern counterpart, but what the boys in the North know how to do, is run an enthralling tournament.


Rugby fans have the privilege of following the Six Nations or Super Rugby (or both) at the moment – each tournament showcasing the best Northern and Southern Hemisphere players respectively.


However, when it comes to putting these players into competition against each other, Super Rugby has taken a dark path towards endorsements, advertisements and money in general.


Meanwhile, the Six Nations, it would seem, is the perfect, stripped down and leaned-out tournament that offers thrills, excitement and gripping drama.


It has already been discussed by Jan de Koning on this website how Super Rugby is losing its lustre as it continues to expand. 


I do not want to get into that argument again, rather I want to showcase what the Six Nations has got going for it in comparison to the lumbering behemoth that is Super Rugby.


The agony and the ecstasyI intend to look deeper into the setup of the two tournaments, to see how the Six Nations creates a competition that can truly enthral week in and week out against the molasses-slow Super Rugby effort.


It is a simple system in the North: six teams play each other once, (with home advantage in alternate seasons) the winner gains two points and a draw gets you one.


That is it! Utter simplicity. No bonus points, only a small differentiation of points between winners and losers, no conferences with awkward and unfair draws – just five rounds and a Champion crowned.


There are a number of reasons why this simple recipe leads to such excitement, and I want to examine the main ones.


Short tournament:


Seven weeks is ideal time to know who the best in a competition is. 

The agony and the ecstasy

Have you ever watched a series on the Television that drags on and on, slowly running out of ideas until it becomes clear that the producers are chasing after money rather than putting on a good performance? (for me personally, Lost and Dexter spring to mind) This is Super Rugby.


Now, have you ever watched a series that has a great beginning, an exciting middle that keeps you guessing as a crescendo builds towards a definite end that keeps you hooked right until the last episode? (for me, this is Breaking Bad) In rugby terms, this is the Six Nations.


After dredging through 18 rounds and a conference system that lets those with an inferior points progress over those with more points THEN still having to sit through qualifiers and semifinals before knowing who the champion is, I should be excused for being a little bored of Super Rugby.


Small margins:


Linked to the short tournament is the fact that in the Six Nations you can only pick up two points maximum a game – and boy, do those two points mean a lot!

The agony and the ecstasy

In Super Rugby at the moment, we have teams like the Sharks who have dropped a possible 15 points in the first third of the tournament – but they are still in the running for the play-offs.


Does this not undervalue a win and make a loss almost negligible and insignificant? 


Look at the Crusaders last season, after seven rounds they had picked up just two victories yet they made it to the Final and narrowly lost against the Waratahs.


Every game played in the Six Nations is a giant step towards or away from the title, the drama of knowing a single defeat can end a team's campaign is palpable on the field and that translates to the spectators.


In Super Rugby, watching a team kick a penalty in the last movement of the game in order to lose by less than seven is far from gripping…


Look at the Six Nations so far this year, Wales lost in Week One to England and everyone wrote them off, Week Three comes around and now England have lost a game to Ireland and the world is ready to hand the Irish the trophy.


Week Four arrives and we now have the write-off Welsh toppling the mighty Irish and the whole competition is blown so wide open that even France are still in with a shot.


Number of competitors and conferences:


The best way to determine if you are the best in the tournament is to play everyone and beat them, or at least win more games than them.

The agony and the ecstasy

The Round Robin nature of the Six Nations is by far the fairest – but I will concede that a knock-out stage adds it's own excitement. 


However, Super Rugby even gets that wrong.


In Super Rugby you play the four other teams in your conference twice and then face two teams from each of the other conferences.


First issue, the Australian conferences.


It has been said, by some Australian rugby greats no less, that the Western Force and the Rebels should not be in the competition – it leads to easy points accumulation for the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies plus it can aid or hinder a touring team.


All teams will spurt the media-trained cliche that there are no weak teams in Super Rugby, but you cannot believe that when the draw is done that the teams traveling to Perth and Melbourne are happier than those going to Canberra and Sydney.


I will admit that if it comes down to simply watching an exciting game of rugby, to witness some amazing skill and some crunching hits, I will tune into the Stormers taking on the Chiefs for example.


But, if I want to follow a competition as if it was a thrilling drama series that twists an turns week after week, the Six Nations is the tournament for me.


By Darryn Pollock


If you could only watch one tournament in its entirety – which would you pick?


Which tournament would you choose?



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