Jamie Corrigan: Stick Six Nations schedule where the sun don't shine
They haven't merely messed with kick-off times but with an entire rugby culture
Monday 13 February 2012
John Inverdale once declared that simultaneously broadcasting the Six Nations matches "would be a return to the dark ages". But here's a quaint thing about the dark ages – they used to play the games when it was light.
Funnily enough, the dark ages didn't feature games being postponed because the sun had gone back in. No, they had this uncanny ability to understand that with the Sun being 5500°C and the moon being 107°C, it was a good idea if men in little shorts ran around when the former was radiating its warmth. The players were happy, the fans were happy, the landlords were happy, there are even reports of Brian Moore being average to middling. But the TV execs weren't happy. So that in effect was that.
They told the bufties in the union blazers they wanted the games at different times. The men in blazers put up a hell of a fight, saying, "go ahead, do what you want, so long as you pay more money". Thus the TV execs wrote a cheque and the games started being shown in succession. Originally they still took place on a Saturday afternoon, but very soon the dolts with the clipboards decided night games were the way forward. And what about games on a Sunday afternoon? And what about games on a Friday night? "Yes, yes, yes," said the bufties. "Feel free. Just write another of those beautiful noughts here..."
They got away with it, for years and years. But then came Saturday. Once again they dared to stage France versus Ireland when the sun don't shine, but this time a whole legion of critics are telling them to stick it where the sun don't shine. Message boards are even talking about boycotts and so forth. I fully subscribe to such rebellion.
Here's what would happen if the Stade de France was full of French people when the game is eventually played (probably at 9pm on a Saturday). The cameras would pan round in an increasingly desperate search for a ruddy-faced gent wearing a Guinness hat or a stunner with a clover on her cheek and a wonderful reality would hit home, one that should never have been ignored.
They would realise their precious little tournament would mean nought without the unique atmosphere raised by those actually inside the stadium. They would realise that without the colour in the stands, the chorus on the wind, the party on the streets, the Six Nations would die on its feet. Surely a boycott would force them to pause before hurling the golden goose up on to the slab and thrusting a cleaver directly into its nether regions?
If you played a Six Nations international at 2am on a Wednesday on the dark side of the moon then thousands upon thousands of scarf-waving maniacs would still somehow find their way. The authorities know this and have long been in shameless exploitation of the fact. The suits care more about that bottom line than the try-line.
How can they sit up there resplendent in their corporate suites and capitalise on the loyalty that essentially pays their salaries? There is a very straightforward way of looking at this unprecedented move – they are further filling their own coffers while further emptying those of the travelling fan.
Yet it doesn't even end there. Because if you are one of those cold-hearted couch-dwellers who couldn't give a hoot about the rough justice being handed out to the "real" fans, then consider what the late night/Sunday internationals have done to the traditional Six Nations weekend.
They haven't merely messed with kick-off times but with an entire rugby culture. Sure, they will say that night fixtures and Sunday games have been a roaring success in the World Cup and the Heineken Cup. But the Six Nations is neither. It has been around that much longer and is endearingly not just about "the match" or "the result".
When one of the home nation's support descends on Paris, Rome, Cardiff, Dublin or Edinburgh, or even London, they are following in a grand tradition of bonhomie, of celebrating their nationality in the most positive sense imaginable. Friendships have been made and cherished; in the odd case even babies have been made and cherished. "The match" has always been the central part of the trip which bonded it all together. That glue is busily being sacrificed.
Yet the unions justify their actions with their grand tales of the game's "expansion". Well, what about the children, that generation who they pray one day will pick up a ball and run? As these game do not finish until about 10pm in Britain, so many of the young supporters – the ones the unions should be going out of their way to captivate – are tucked up, rather grumpily, in bed when Jonny Sexton kicks the last-gasp penalty. Where is the sense in that? In this enlightened age, there isn't any.
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