This glorious, unpredictable northern festival

February 15, 2009

Wales' Leigh Halfpenny celebrates his try against England with Andy Powell during their Six Nations rugby union match in CardiffYou wouldn’t have got great odds on Wales and France coming out on top against England and Scotland respectively on the first day of the second weekend of the Six Nations.

But England beating Wales in the try count at the Millennium Stadium and Scotland taking the game to the French the way they did in St Denis were not forecasts I’d read anywhere.

And that, of course, is the beauty of this marvellous northern hemisphere winter ritual, where world beaters one week can become humbled also rans the next.  

In the southern hemisphere, the Super 14 got underway this weekend in what our man in Sydney, Julian Linden, described as an “extraordinary” opening round of matches.

Despite close matches and the host of away winners, however, one element of the competition remained the same — the Canterbury Crusaders won their opener.

The New Zealanders have won seven of the 13 titles since the Super 12 started in 1996. When they haven’t won, as often than not their compatriots the Blues have claimed it.

The All Blacks have had a similar grip on the Tri-Nations, winning nine of the 13 tournaments and six of the last seven.

By contrast, the Scots won the last Five Nations in 1999 and since it became six, France, Wales and England have all won the prize with Ireland coming close a couple of times.

Waratah's Turner misses a tackle on Hurricane's Gear in their Super 14 rugby match in WellingtonAfter a fine win over the French last week, the Irish should easily round out the weekend with a win over an Italy side that has many attributes but no half backs. This is the Six Nations, however, and anything could happen. 

So forget the contrasting styles of play — yes northern hemisphere rugby at its worst can be a turgid kickfest and you see more tries in the south — the Six Nations must surely stand alone as the best rugby tournament outside the World Cup because of its sheer unpredictability.

Pictures: (Top) Wales winger Leigh Halfpenny celebrates his try against England with Andy Powell  by Eddie Keogh. The Waratah’s Lachie Turner misses a tackle on the Hurricane’s Hosea Gear by Anthony Phelps. 

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