It’s time for yet another break in the middle of the RBS 6 Nations and, with two matches left to play, the league table – and the race for the Grand Slam – is looking pretty tasty.
But, it’s these breaks in the middle of what should be a relatively short tournament with just five matches to be played that confuse me. We’ve just had a week off the weekend before last and now the 6 Nations take a step to the side once more for the regular Premiership and PRO12 seasons.
There wouldn’t be a problem if there was no mutual interest between the three competitions but they have. The majority of the players representing England play in the Aviva Premiership and many of Scotland, Wales and Ireland’s squads make up the Rabodirect PRO12, so when they’re away on international duty, their clubs naturally suffer. Most of the time, each club has an equal impairment since all must have absent stars, but it’s clear from televised matches that attendances significantly drop at this time of year and that doesn’t help anybody.
This weekend’s Premiership action begins on Friday with two matches; Bath take on fourth-placed Gloucester, whilst Worcester attempt to make some ground up on the top 8 with a visit from London Wasps. As it happens, most of these sides aren’t significantly affected by absentees – Gloucester suffer the most with three missing players, including international debutant Billy Twelvetrees. It shouldn’t make much of a difference that they won’t be around to help their side’s league positions, but the majority of their fans will have their eye firmly on England’s progress.
Over in the PRO12, it’s almost an entirely full fixture list on Friday. League leaders Ulster should have another pretty easy time of it as they welcome Treviso and fellow Irishmen Leinster travel to a struggling Dragons side. Scarlets have a chance to break into the top four if they beat Edinburgh at home, with Ospreys not playing until Saturday. Cardiff Blues travel to Glasgow Warriors hoping for an upset, and it’s a chance for Connacht to pick up a win against bottom side Zebre.