The Six Nations' Championship is a wonderful tournament, steeped in wintry historyand replete with decades of friendly but resolutely patriotic imagery. Like Terry Wogan or a steaming cup of tea, it has become an institution that offers a warming sense of reassurance at what is traditionally a gloomy time of year.
Certainly in the West Country the streets are a notch quieter on these Saturday afternoons as the locals gather round appropriately modern TV screens to cheer as the monsters in mud do battle to settle old scores.
I love the Six Nations and, having played in it for England – if only during the blink of an eye – it still fills me with pride. It is a shame, then, that for those of us who are not in the England team, it has become a sideshow.
Much has been said over the years about the structure of our domestic season so I won't bother to cover that old ground again, but what I will say is that playing on the same day as an England Test feels quite bizarre.
With one television company or the other dictating our kick-off times nowadays, we often play just after the big boys finish or, if we are not to be televised at all, at the same time.
Of course, to play no domestic games while the internationals are happening would result in some dangerously congested weeks later in the season and, inevitably, a shorter break at the end. I get all of this, but remove the practicalities from the scenario and what is left is a bit of a shame.
Professional rugby players probably account for about one millionth of a per cent of the BBC's viewing figures so there is not much of an argument for rescheduling everybody else so that we might be able to support England from our armchairs. Still, from a purely selfish point of view I would appreciate Stuart Lancaster having a word.
People do turn up to watch our club matches, which we appreciate hugely, and while our focus as players never drifts from club to country when there is a job to be done at home, happenings at Twickenham or wherever England are playing serve unavoidably to dilute our own big occasion.
This may not be so uncomfortable for blokes like me who are nowhere near the England team, but for the chaps who are within touching distance of being selected to wear the red rose instead of the club badge, or for those who had always been chosen to perform on the bigger stage and are now – either through loss of form or retirement – playing in the shadows of the national side, it has to be a bit of a comedown.
I am making this all sound a little bit dour, but really you could select us to turn out for your local pub side on a Tuesday night and, like rugby players all over the world, we would set our sights on the task in hand and give our all to the cause. In this sense, being a professional rugby player is really no different to being a plumber.
I think the point I am trying to make is that our very participation in a club fixture which is played on the same day as a Test match is nothing less than a physical confirmation that we are not good enough to get in the national team up the road.
Brutal critiques are part of our daily – even hourly – routine, so we are used to them. But we are also used to believing that we are playing a part in the big show when the weekend arrives. So we are talking about egos here; we all have them.
In fact, I believe that a bit of arrogance is absolutely necessary for most players who want to forge a career in sport. But this renders us proud men who lust after the respect of our peers and supporters.
When we are displayed as second best, our egos are left ever so slightly dented. Things look unlikely to change, though, so we had better get our heads around it. There is a job to be done, and we remain proud to be the ones who are chosen to do it.Reuse content