After one round of the Six Nations most people’s predictions, if they haven’t already fallen off, are teetering on the edge of a cliff. England, so majestic throughout much of 2016 looked slow and ponderous during most of their match against France, whilst a lot of people’s favourites, Ireland, suffered an agonising defeat against Scotland at Murrayfield. Even Wales, whose 33-7 victory against Italy on paper looks impressive, had to wait until the Italians were down to fourteen men before they pulled away in Rome.
Yet whilst most people would say that Ireland were the big losers at the weekend I would suggest that Georgia may be the nation who are rueing most the competiveness shown by all teams in a tight fought opening weekend. Georgia are by far and away the seventh best rugby team in the Northern Hemisphere, having one the last six “Best of the Rest” Northern Hemisphere rugby championships and a disappointing display by Italy or Scotland would have furthered their argument to be allowed to play off with the bottom placed team for a place at the top table. Yet what this weekend showed us is that whilst Scotland are not going to win the Six Nations and Italy may struggle to win a game, they can both be competitive on their day.
So where does this leave Georgia? Like the Pacific Islands and Japan, smaller “tier 2” nations need to be able to play the big boys more often than they do, not just every four years at the World Cup. Every “tier 1” nation should be committed to playing at least one of the smaller nations once a year. What harm would it do if England preceded their summer tour with a stopover in Japan or Fiji and surely instead of playing money grabbing friendlies in America, wouldn’t the grass roots of the game be better served if the All Blacks warmed up for their Autumn tour by playing the likes of Western Samoa? They could even play the game here in New Zealand if they were worried about the travelling!
Finally, on the subject of “tier 1” and “tier 2” nations I have been amused that as England close in on New Zealand’s record of consecutive wins the Kiwi press have started to follow the All Blacks record of 18 with the words “against tier 1 nations”. Surely a win is a win and if England do manage to get to 19 by completing a second consecutive grand slam their achievements should be recognised and not diminished because they had the temerity to play Fiji! And if they do fail will the Kiwi press remove the addendum?
If they do I am afraid they will have to add another because between 2008 and 2014 Cyprus won 24 consecutive rugby matches, 6 more than the All Blacks managed and a total which would mean England would have to win every match until the end of the year!