In the hallowed week of the Six Nations, I thought I’d take a look at how international rugby (focussing on the Six Nations) affects club competitions and how it could affect the validity of the final standings. The topic was first brought to my attention by the Driving Maul twitter page, where a poll was run asking if people think that the Six Nations is the cause for the upsets in the premiership last week (round 12) and therefore ruins the validity of the competition. The most notable upset that weekend was of course, Saracens defeat to Wasps, 23-64.
Looking at Wasps victory in the Premiership first, the first thing that struck me was the strength of both side’s team sheets. Of course, influential names such as Owen Farrell, Duncan Taylor and the suspended Chris Ashton are missing from Saracens team and the likes of Joe Launchbury and Ruaridh Jackson from Wasps. However, overall the teams were both strong, neither side looking obviously depleted by the Six Nations. Charles Piutau and Marcelo Bosch were just two big names on the field that day. The Premiership has been made up of around “61-63%” English qualified players since it’s inception. As the majority of the players are qualified for NH teams, during the Six Nations they may be taken off to their international sides (England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland) However, with most Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Irish players playing in their respective countries, the Premiership more or less only has to feed one national side, England, with the occasional extras to European Nations Cup and the Americas Rugby Championship. In addition European clubs have significantly more power over players from these nations and can therefore dictate whether players from ENC and ARC will be made available to their national sides or not. Overall, in my opinion this does test depth, but shouldn’t cause too many issues for Premiership sides during this period.
Arguably, France are the least well equipped to deal with the Six Nations. When the likes of Wesley Fofana, Francois Trinh-Duc and Guillem Guirado are away on international duty alongside the occasional Irish, Welsh, Scottish or Italian player, times really do look tough for Top 14 sides. They have to turn to the likes of second rate Southern Hemisphere players such as Dan Carter (who’s clearly past his best), Adam Ashley-Cooper (who was never that good anyway) and Ma’a Nonu, who doesn’t bring much other than the occasional ‘powerful’ run.
Jokes aside though, some of these southern giants have struggled to settle in to things in France with Ma’a Nonu being perhaps the most notable. On the other hand many have questioned whether Racing 92 actually need anyone else on the pitch other than the brilliant Dan Carter who is continuing in the same vain of form that saw him excel in the World Cup final last year. Top 14 sides also have the luxury of never really being without their southern stars, as the rugby calendar down under sees them playing internationals in the summer and autumn, but not during the Six Nations. This again means a minimal effect in theory. I will confess though, I don’t overly follow the Top 14 though, so please let me know if this is the reality or not!
Last, but by no means least is the PRO12 which for me is the league affected most by the Six Nations, but not necessarily in a bad way. During the six nations four nations have squads to select from twelve PRO12 sides. There are of course exceptions, with some players playing abroad in England and France, but the majority of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy’s squads are made up of these twelve sides whilst a few players are lost in this period to the ENC and ARC too. This means that some of the top sides struggle during the Six Nations, allowing sides such as Zebre, Treviso, Newport Gwent Dragons and Connacht the chance to register some results (although Connacht have certainly dropped the whipping boys of the PRO12 of late, sitting at the top of the table) This can, at times, give the illusion that a side is a bigger player in the league than they really are.
It’s not all bad news though, this Six Nations period gives opportunity for new players to make their claims for a starting berth. Indeed, Finn Russell is a perfect example of this, moving from the edge of the Glasgow Warriors squad to the Scotland ten shirt in under a year, all thanks to the opportunity the Six Nations gave him to get game time at Glasgow back in 2013.
The biggest hit tends to come once every four years, World Cup time. The PRO12 contributed more players than any other league to the World Cup, which severely affected some sides in the league and in Europe, Leinster and Glasgow being perhaps the most notable.
In the Premiership it’s harder to tell the effect the World Cup had, as the league was paused until its conclusion. However, Bath’s fall from grace this season is a good example for me. Despite sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premiership last year, having signed a number of world class players, they find themselves struggling with four wins from twelve games. Most expect that to change next season, as they have time to regroup after the disruption of the World Cup.
In truth, as far as the Top 14 goes I’m not sure. I don’t have much opportunity to follow it and unfortunately neither can I follow Super Rugby. If anyone wants to weigh in on the effects on these leagues, please feel free to comment or contact me on my twitter which is linked below.
To conclude then, there is no denying that International fixtures affect club rugby in a notable way, but generally I don’t think it causes a significant enough upset outside of World Cup years to blame a clubs poor form on this. As usual, any advice appreciated and if you wish to get involved in my twitter poll on the matter, you can here.
You can take a look in further depth at the shortcomings of the Guinness Pro 12 in Europe this year, here.
The Scribbler, February 20th, 2016