The broadcaster’s cameras have been omnipresent in the build-up to the championship, popping up at training, team announcements and last week’s launch in London. They are gathering a frightening amount of material and not all of it may be as edifying as the tournament organisers would like.
Rugby has been in danger of mislaying its moral compass in recent weeks. Rufus McLean, the three-times capped Scotland winger, was sacked by Glasgow after pleading guilty to charges of domestic abuse, while allegations of sexism, racism and misogyny look set to bring down the hierarchy at the Welsh Rugby Union. Closer to home, Liberton RFC are facing allegations of racism, misogyny and homophobia after their women’s team was disbanded.
It’s a sobering reminder that much still needs to be done to make the sport as inclusive as it should be and it’s probably not what private equity firm CVC had in mind when it announced it was investing up to £365 million for a 1/7th share in Six Nations Rugby in 2021.
Rugby is hoping that Netflix will do for the sport what it has done for motor racing with Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a hit series that makes heroes and villains of the main characters, turning the story of a championship season into a captivating melodrama, even though we already know the outcome.
Who will be the breakout stars from this season’s Six Nations? France are defending the title they won in style via last year’s Grand Slam but Ireland are the favourites and the meeting of the world’s best two teams in Dublin in round 2 is likely to go a long way to shaping the destiny of the championship. Fabien Galthie has potential to be a leading man for Netflix. The France chief was the coolest cat in the room when all coaches and captains gathered for launch day at County Hall last week, exuding plenty of je ne sais quoi in his shades, loosened tie and designer trainers. He knows how to meld a team too, turning the tournament’s talented underachievers into title winners. This autumn’s France-hosted World Cup is the ultimate goal but another Six Nations wouldn’t go amiss for this vibrant squad who ended an unbeaten 2022 with wins over Australia, South Africa and Japan. Antoine Dupont was red-carded in the Springboks game but the scrum-half remains their on-field leader and inspiration.
For Ireland, Johnny Sexton has been patched up and is ready to throw his 37-year-old body into one final Six Nations. The great outside-half will retire after the World Cup but has his eye on a fourth Six Nations title and says his recently broken cheekbone is fixed.
Wales and England, who meet in round 3, are both seeking a new coach bounce, with Warren Gatland and Steve Borthwick replacing Wayne Pivac and Eddie Jones, respectively. The counter argument is that neither new man has had long to work with his squad. Andy Farrell, the Ireland coach, described Gatland as “the master of getting his squad together quickly”, a consequence of three Lions campaigns, but can he pull Wales out of the doldrums so soon when the wounds of home defeats by Italy and Georgia remain fresh?
Borthwick exudes calm authority, a departure from his predecessor whose irascible cheeky boy schtick was starting to grate. England have always had huge strength in depth but injuries to Elliot Daly, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and three (count ’em) hookers in Luke Cowan-Dickie, George McGuigan and Jamie George will test the new head coach.
In Ange Capuozzo Italy had the breakout star of last season’s tournament. The full-back, who can also play on the wing, marked his Test debut with a try double against Scotland then turned the natural order on its head with the winning try against Wales in Cardiff, ending Italy’s 36-game losing streak in the Six Nations. He scored another two tries in the autumn as Italy beat Australia for the first time and there is no doubting the Azzurri have their sights set higher than bottom place after seven years in a row as basement dwellers.
All of which could spell worrying news for Scotland, who face Italy on the final weekend and it feels a bit like a throwback to the bad old days when this particular fixture was a wooden spoon decider. With tough away games in England and France in weeks one and three, Scotland desperately need to take something from the home matches against Wales and Ireland, teams they have never beaten at Murrayfield under Gregor Townsend.
This could be Townsend’s last hurrah in the Six Nations as Scotland coach and the good news is that he is praising Finn Russell to the hilt, suggesting that his relationship with the playmaker is solid. More worrying is the absence through injury of Darcy Graham and Rory Darge and ongoing concerns around the fitness of Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Zander Fagerson. All are big-game players for Scotland who open their campaign at Twickenham on Saturday aiming for a third win in a row against their nearest and dearest. You have to go back to 1971 and the days of Ian McLauchlan, Sandy Carmichael and Peter and Gordon Brown for the last time that happened. It's the sort of storyline Netflix would love.