Leader: College fb is long gone and NFL grinds to a halt Sunday, so if you need an offseason excuse to drink and watch contact sports the Six Nations Championship starts this weekend. For the uninitiated, it's an annual rugby tournament between the top national teams of Europe - England, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland & Italy. Though New Zealand won the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the northern hemisphere had a good showing and this should be an entertaining tournament (started in 1883, it's also about a 100 years older than the RWC). France are the favorites this year, but Wales, Ireland & England aren't far behind.
If you don't know much about rugby, it's a good blend of the flow of soccer and the contact of football. Where it differs from football is that there are no pads, forward passes, timeouts or commercial breaks. Also worth noting is that all onfield decisions are made by the players - the coaches sit in the box and cannot interact with them during play. Here's a good rugby primer if you want to read more.
How to watch: For the past couple years, BBC America HD has broadcast one game on each of the five weekends. For the other games, one has to trek to a rugby bar with the int'l feed - find a local venue here. Anyone that lives in NYC, The Red Lion, Dorian Gray & McCormack's are popular & rowdy spots and provide a great reason to get slizzered with a bunch of Euros at 10am on a Saturday. ATLiens your best bet is probably Fado, Tampa - Macdinton's. BBC America TV schedule posted below, full schedule here. (Games last about two hours - there are two 40 minute halves with a ~15 min halftime):
Saturday Feb 4, 12pm: England v Scotland
Saturday Feb 11, 3pm: France v Ireland
Saturday Feb 25, 11am: England v Wales
Saturday Mar 10, 9:30am: Wales v Italy
Saturday Mar 17, 1pm: England v Ireland*
*Yes, England plays Ireland on St Patricks Day, which is also on a Saturday this year. You have been warned.
Odds to win: France 6/4, Wales 3/1, England 4/1, Ireland 4/1, Scotland 25/1, Italy 150/1
Six Nations 2011 Highlights (via AdamMKeane)
- England (pop. 51mm): The biggest market for rugby, they invented the sport and the UK media covers the sport extensively, though with a clear fawning bias to the home team. Unlimited resources but usually underachieves on the field. Supporters tend to be overpaid and overserved (think lax bros in the US). Hated by every other team & fanbase. Won world cup in 2003, one of four teams to have won it and only team from Northern Hemisphere. Woefully underperformed in 2011 RWC, and had a few unsavoury off-field incidents in the process. College FB comp: Notre Dame, Texas
- Scotland (pop. 5mm): Great rugby history but have not been a factor in recent memory - though things are trending up after recent defeats of Southern Hemisphere heavyweights Australia & South Africa. One-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust style of play. Rivalry against England is one of the oldest in international sports - beyond pride, at stake is a trophy with cobras on it. College FB comp: Texas A&M
- Wales (pop. 3mm): Rugby is the national sport of Wales, and as such punches far above it's relative weight with a robust history and an appealing open style of play. Program is looking up after WC semi appearance last year. Every other player is named "Jones'. Visceral hatred of much larger island-mate England. College FB comp: Oklahoma
- Ireland (pop. 6mm): Historically shaky but recent vintages have raised expectations considerably. Raging passionate hammered fan base with extreme historical grievance against rival (surprise!) England. Along with Wales, probably the easiest team to root for as a non-partisan. College FB comp: Ole Miss *Should also note that the Irish team selects players from both the Republic of Ireland and from Northern Ireland, going above national & religious boundaries.
- Italy (pop. 60mm): New to major international rugby. Surprisingly physical style of play. Haven't made waves yet, though the sport is growing in Italy but still trails far behind soccer. College FB comp: UNC, Kentucky
- France (pop. 65mm): The great paradox of rugby. Defying national stereotypes, forward/line play is nasty, rugged & effective; confirming national stereotypes, the backs/skill players are handsome & elegant. The French are comically inconsistent (see 2011 RWC), though when they do they can beat any team in the world. Varied facial hair and frat swoops abound. Team like life itself: moody, improvised, sometimes boring, but with moments that make it all worthwhile. College FB equivalent: none. Closest I can think of is the Brazilian soccer team x 70s Oakland Raiders.
*Southern Hemisphere: South Africa = Bama, Australia = USC, New Zealand = Harlem Globetrotters
For UK local media coverage, The Daily Telegraph is probably your best bet.
Week 1 Recap: France 30 - 12 Italy, England 13 - 6 Scotland, Wales 23 - 21 Ireland
Week 2 Recap: England 19 - 15 Italy, Wales 27 - 13 Scotland, France v Ireland ppd due to frozen pitch
Photo above via 2012 World Press Photo awards.