Wales-England remains arguably the most eagerly anticipated fixture in world rugby. The unbridled passion of the two sets of rival fans sets the fixture apart from any other in the sport. So why is it, that such an iconic match has ended up being held at the mercy of television broadcasters?
Friday night fixtures have become the norm for rugby players at club level and rightfully so. It allows those fans who play themselves, the opportunity to still watch their team as well as commit to play for their local clubs. Along with that, it provides a welcome respite for fans who have worked hard all week, the ideal opportunity to unwind and socialise with mates over a pint or two. Having been to many Friday night club matches myself, I can say from experience that the atmosphere is often better than when teams play on a Saturday afternoon, when personal sporting commitments tend to take priority.
Despite this, international test rugby is a completely different beast from club rugby. A step up in class from club-level, many top club players have tried to make the jump to international rugby and have failed, not due to lack of effort but often due to lacking that little bit of class that can prove the difference at the elite level. Fans themselves are willing to shelve out more cash to compensate for this increase in standard – an increase which is reflected in the lesser number of games played when compared with club rugby.
The Six Nations is widely perceived as the greatest annual rugby competition on the planet. The best of Europe going head-to-head over seven weeks, all with the same objective of being crowned Kings of Europe. The competition itself continues to attract vast crowds of fans both home and away, with stadiums often packed to the rafters. Even those fans not lucky enough to get their hands on those prized tickets, spill out into the pubs and clubs round the stadiums to enjoy those rare match-day atmospheres in the flesh.
However over the last few years, the fans who have made this tournament what it is, have been callously ignored by organisers who continue to screen matches at inconvenient times. The decision to play matches on Friday nights began when Wales played France in Paris in 2009. Since then Cardiff has played host to four Friday night matches, with the most recent one being England’s 21-16 victory over Wales in the opening match of the 2015 campaign, last week. Fans who save up well in advance for these trips are being forgotten about, with the added complications of having to take days off work or rushing through the usual work traffic on Friday evenings, causing more unwanted stress. The traditional Saturday and Sunday games remain, and rightfully so with away fans organising weekend trips away to not only watch the match, but also experience the unique atmosphere of the different cities such as Rome, Dublin and Paris.
As for the match itself, the use of pyrotechnics to boost the atmosphere of these matches is frankly a waste of time and money, with the only ones who seem to benefit being the television broadcasters with increased viewing figures. The expensively-manufactured pre-match build-up and hype has little impact on professional athletes and often has little bearing on the outcome of these great contests. Anyone present at the Wales-England game of 2013 will tell you, that its fans who create the atmosphere and the sooner organisers embrace them the better!