Tag Archives: rugby

Time for a New Six Nations?

So the Six Nations tournament is in full swing. This always gets me thinking about rugby, and in particular, the competition’s format. Rugby fans might find what I am going to say controversial, whilst nobody else will give much of a shit. But as a rugby fan, I want to make my feelings heard. And before we go any further no, this blog isn’t about the self-destructing Wales team.

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You see, I don’t think the Six Nations should be six nations. Not any more. Frankly, Italy (wooden spoon winners in two of the past three seasons and odds on for a hat-trick) are not strong enough to contest and do themselves no favours by continuing to slug it out with the big boys of European rugby. From the 85 games they’d played up to the start of the current championship, they’d lost 72 and their overall points difference stood at an alarming -1553. That’s more than twice as many as the second worst team, Scotland.

It’s nothing personal. I admire the way Italy stick to their guns, often in the face of overwhelming odds. They are a strong, powerful team, and have produced a couple of top players. But this season really should spell the end of their involvement in the Six Nations tournament. Who needs it? They were effectively out of the reckoning after just two games, having been on the end of two home thrashings at the hands of Wales and Ireland (7-33 and 10-63 respectively). They usually have one good game a year, and that came last week at Twickers. They gave England a scare, more through clever exploitation of the rules than any real skill, but still ended up losing by double digits. All the evidence suggests that Italy are getting worse at this rugby lark, not better. It could be time to go. And you know what? They can take France with them.

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Controversial? Let me explain…

At several points in it’s long history (the first comparable tournament was played way back in 1883) the Six Nations was known as the Home Nations, and consisted of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Then in came the French and it became the Five Nations. Then Italy made it six. Where’s it going to end? Shall we just invite every rugby-playing nation in Europe and call it the 17 Nations? Of course not, that would be impractical. But then you have to wonder why Italy deserve a place. Georgia are actually above them in the world rankings and Romania and Russia aren’t far behind.

I want a return to the old days. But not because I’m some Neanderthal racist who hates Italians and Frenchies. Nope, I have a plan. The tournament should return to its roots, but I think we should do it differently this time. I want the home nations to play every other home nation twice a season, for a total of six games. And lets mix up the draw each year, pulling the fixtures at random, instead of having the format and fixtures set in stone. That gets boring. The draw for the next tournament can be made at the end of the previous one to give fans time to make arrangements, and thereby amping up the drama even more. Put it on live TV, make a spectacle out of it like the FA Cup draw.

Let’s be honest, nobody really likes playing the French. Not because anyone is afraid of them (though they do have a nasty habit of running in good tries), but because they bring nothing to the tournament, especially the way the team is at the moment. They currently stand at 8th in the latest World Rugby rankings, lower than any of the home nations, and haven’t been serious contenders for years. They were fortunate to beat Italy last season. If they’d lost, they would have suffered a second whitewash in four years. Not good enough, sorry.

There’s long been talk of introducing a two-tier system into the Six Nations, with promotion and relegation. If that ever happened, Italy would undoubtedly be the first team relegated. And there’s a decent chance France could follow. I suggest we take the initiative and cull them now, then put them in a separate European group with two of Georgia, Romania and Russia. Maybe even Spain, Germany or Portugal. All are emerging nations ranked in the world top 25. Playing each other (along with France and Italy) on a regular basis would improve their game immeasurably, which can only be good for the sport. The European group of four (even five or six would be manageable as these teams play less games per year than the elite) can also play each home and away, then face the winners of the British group in a grand final every year at a neutral venue. Obviously France would dominate for the first couple of years, but I the other teams would soon catch up with them.

There, sorted. Think about it. This proposed new format would benefit everyone involved. The British teams would only have to play one (or two, if they get to the grand final) more games a season, there would be more opportunity for sponsors and TV revenue, the fans would get more of what they really want (Wales v Scotland, England v Anybody), the smaller rugby-playing nations would have a framework and a chance to develop, and there would be a huge showpiece final every year to rival the (football) European Championship.

Who’s with me?


The Legend of Wilf Wooller

Wilf Wooller in his prime

Wilf Wooller in his prime

A forgotten Welsh hero, and probably the best all-round sportsman the country ever produced.

I didn’t know who he was, either. Until recently when I was researching my book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City Football Club, and his name cropped up in some vintage match reports.

Although he didn’t play many games for the Bluebirds, he seemed a decent enough centre forward circa 1939, and once scored a hat-trick, just before joining the 77th Anti-Aircraft Regiment as a gunner when World War II broke out. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that by then, he was also captain of Glamorgan cricket club AND the Welsh rugby team!

Dubbed in his Guardian obituary ‘a man of charm and a man of arrogance,’ Wilfred ‘Wilf’ Wooller was born on 20th November 1912 in Rhos-on-Sea, Denbighshire. He was a gifted student, going to Cambridge university to study Anthropology. By this time he had grown to a 6’ 2” 14-stone man-monster. In 1933 he made his debut for the national rugby side in his country’s first win at Twickenham in twenty years, and went on to represent them a further 17 times. His greatest moment in a scarlet shirt came in 1935 when he played against the New Zealand All Blacks. With Wales 12-10 down and a man short, he put through a sublime kick that allowed his team to score the decisive late try. The Daily Telegraph said he was ‘like the sacrificial car of juggernaut, leaving a trail of prostrate figures in his wake.’ At club level he represented Cardiff RFU.

In 1938 he played his first game of county cricket for Glamorgan, having won the distinction of becoming a ‘double blue’ by playing for Cambridge against their great rivals Oxford. In his first bowling spell for the county he took three wickets for 22 runs in nine overs, and would go on to represent the club for the next 24 years during which time he scored almost 14,000 runs. He was captain for 13 years, and later became club secretary then president. Although never being called up to play for England, he was a test selector for many years. By that time he had also somehow found the time to represent Wales at squash, Cardiff Athletic Club at bowls, and Barry Town at football. For most of his working life he traded coal in the Welsh capital.

During the war years, he was posted to the Far East and captured by the Japanese in 1942, spending time in the notorious Changi prison in Singapore and working on the Burma railway. After the war ended and his subsequent release, it was reported that Wooller consistently refused to use Japanese-made calculators due to his bad treatment as a POW.

Later in life, Wooller became a respected sports broadcaster for the BBC and journalist for the Sunday Telegraph, building a reputation both for his scathing wit, and for not being afraid to voice his outspoken views. He was involved in numerous clashes with everyone from players to politicians. The story goes that once, the mother of a Welsh rugby international sent him a pair of glasses after he dared criticize her son’s performance in a game. He sent the glasses back with a note explaining that his wife worked for an optician, so he didn’t need them!

He died in Cardiff on 10th March 1997 at the age of 84.

They just don’t make them like anymore. What an asset he would be in these days of spoiled prima donna footballers kicking up a fuss because they have to play on the right side instead of the left. Wilf Wooller, we salute you!

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post UK website.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/wilf-wooller-legend_b_3736008.html


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