Anna Caplice: Why the Six Nations is the best tournament in sport

Every year the competition delivers great games and as Ireland fans we're lucky to get to support one of the leading contenders each spring
Anna Caplice: Why the Six Nations is the best tournament in sport

Ireland's James Lowe in action during the Guinness Six Nations match at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome. Picture: PA

IS the Six Nations the best rugby tournament in the world? 

Crammed around a tiny table in a tiny pub in La Rochelle, heaving with French people all singing in our ears is a memory that makes me think that, yes. 

Yes, it has to be one of the best. Not only because we currently have 5 out of 6 teams amongst the top 10 ranked teams in the world, with three of them in the top five. 

Nor just because some of the best players in the world go head to head in front of thousands of fans almost every weekend from the winter months right through to the summer like some big pagan springtime festival to banish the short evenings.

These ingredients are indeed vital in the delicious recipe of this yearly tournament we are so blessed with, but for me, the accessibility to the culture, people, stadiums, languages, food, drink, anthems and songs of our Celtic and European cousins is something to behold. 

“Right, where are the cheapest flights to in France? £14.99 return to La Rochelle? Perfect!” 

My teammates and I had a rare weekend off during last season’s Premiership on the weekend that Ireland were playing France in Paris. And decided to soak up some French small-town atmosphere.

Ireland’s Josh van der Flier on the move. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ireland’s Josh van der Flier on the move. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

“Pardonnez-moi, le match? Demain? Ici?” 

You’ll be glad in the end that French was compulsory for Junior Cert because that was all we needed to reserve our seat for the next day in this little French pub, on the edge of the market. 

When we returned the next day Rafael had us in prime heckling spot right under the big screen, and when the French responded to Mack Hansen’s beautiful opportunistic try from kick-off with a try of their own I thought the pub was going to fall down.

We made friends, we practised French, they practised English, we all practised our drinking, we sang songs and we celebrated and consoled, not really sure in the end who had won or lost on the field. 

A travel tip for Six Nations adventures is to learn a few tunes on the tin whistle and throw it into your bag. 

You never know when the opportunity for an impromptu céilí might arise.

Unlike other tournaments in the world where a trip to watch a match of such calibre could cost you thousands and certainly not achievable in a weekend, the furthest away trip for Irish fans is just three hours and five minute flight time to Rome.

Not forgetting also that the women will play in Parma, a city known as The Italian Food Valley, on the 15th of April and there will be plenty to eat and drink there that weekend. The last time I played there we lost. 

So the best way to console ourselves was to enjoy the food. 

“Don’t eat too much,” they warned us as we piled our plates high with parma ham, parmesan cheese, Arancini balls, stuffed artichokes, and every other kind of beautiful Italian Antipasti you could imagine. 

“This is only the starter.” 

Ireland’s Mack Hansen. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ireland’s Mack Hansen. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

I’m currently living and playing rugby in Spain. A country not renowned for its rugby but has a large number of fans hailing from their small and passionate clubs. 

Notable as well, that their women’s team actually used to be in the Six Nations until they were replaced by Italy to emulate the men’s tournament. 

“Hey Anna, we’re showing the Six Nations in the clubhouse this weekend.”

 “Excellent!" I thought. Until I arrived and it turned out that it was just background noise for an excuse to catch up with friends and when their preferred team scored they cheered and returned to their conversation. 

Preferred team because they once liked that Henson guy, or because they went to Scotland when they were small. A flakey reason that is easily interchangeable for another given who might be closer to winning.


But it was a lesson for me that we shouldn’t take our Six Nations place for granted. Win, lose or draw, we are amongst some of the most privileged rugby fans in the world.

Whether you’re lucky enough to get a golden ticket to a Six Nations game or to soak up the atmosphere in a small pub in Europe. Or be a member of the welcoming committee for visiting fans to Ireland or even take an afternoon off to sit by the fire and watch with your family, the main thing to remember is, that we’re lucky fans to hail from a Six Nations country.

Here’s to the goosebumps of the fans who this weekend will get to stand and listen to the lone piper playing Flower of Scotland atop the structure of Murrayfield, with a few more goosebumps dedicated to when it goes acapella and many more to those not wearing underpants under their kilt.

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