Netflix have dropped a documentary about last year’s Men’s Six Nations Championship. But is it any good?
First, a quick warning. This is very spoiler-lite, but not totally spoiler free. I outline the structure of the episodes and mention a few names. But I don’t mention “plot points” and the like. So you can read to see if you think you might like it.
First, the amount I know about making a TV show could comfortably be written on a postcard, possibly a stamp. If I paraphrased that advice to writers and “made what I know” it might turn into a TV show shaped thing, but what works for me is not necessarily mainstream enough to be a success.
Second, I’m a self-confessed rugby tragic. I’ll routinely watch five, and sometimes up to eight games of rugby over a weekend. There are people who watch more, absolutely, but this show could be terrible and I’m still going to keep watching rugby.
Who is this for?
Bearing those things in mind, I have to wonder who the target audience for this show is. It’s hard for me to judge the show as a casual fan or someone who doesn’t know anything about rugby but I struggle to see how what we see here translates into enough of an understanding of the game to let you watch the forthcoming men’s Six Nations (that starts on Friday as I post this) and appreciate the game.
As a tragic, while I appreciate some of the highlights, it feels like it short-changes the game. Yes, there’s an intercept try by Louis Rees-Zammit and that’s a fast way to score a try. But most readers on this site will know that most tries are scored after multiple phases pulling the defence out of shape, creating holes or overlaps and we’re not shown that – we see the scoring move.
Over all the episodes we see flashes of the elements that make up a game, but it’s only enough that I can spot them, nothing to let you understand them, not even in the context of the match, let alone the wider context of understanding rugby.
What do the episodes do?
Each episode focuses on a team and a particular match, sometimes two, moving through the championship. The last episode deviates and looks at all three games in the last round of the championship.
For example, when they look at Ireland they give us Andrew Porter and Antoine Dupont as the stars and while I now think it half works in a strange way, the other half of me is still thinking “WTF? That’s a weird matchup.” But if you’re not already a fan, I don’t think it’s really clear that they’re doing two really different jobs on the rugby pitch and how they contribute. There are other pairs of stars that work better and tell a more obvious story than these two. As a fan of the game, you’ll also ask where that other important, and really well known, component of the game is – we don’t see anything about the referees, but I can identify most referees better than most movie stars. They really stars of the game too.
What they touched on and missed
Over the season they touch on quite a few major issues around the game, although not all of them, and they don’t really give what I’d consider the right weight to them. For example, if you blink, you could miss the reference to head injuries and concussions and that’s a major issue in and around rugby. There are other issues about undesirable tactics, social media abuse of referees and so on and I understand given the rest why the first of those doesn’t get touched on, but they could have looked at the abuse hurled at refs a bit.
All that said, as a tragic, I enjoyed this show. The clips they showed took me back to last year’s men’s Six Nations and made me reminisce as part of the build up. That was nice.
I wasn’t expecting hard-hitting interviews, and I didn’t get them. But in some ways, because everyone knew they had editorial rights over what went out, it felt a bit like they relaxed and were more themselves. I don’t follow these people on social media, although I know from here and there a surprising amount about their children and partners where applicable. But seeing odd clips of them at home with parents, wives, families, friends – whatever they chose to show – was interesting still.
I’d have loved to see more training ground and video analysis room stuff. I’d have loved to have seen a properly done highlight of a try with analysis too, showing the actual build up.
But if you’re going to attract a new audience, I feel like they don’t actually show enough about what a game is like. There’s not really anything that shows the fundamentals of rugby – if you sit down to watch your first game you’re going to see a scrum, lineout, lots of rucks, some mauls, plenty of kicking and so on. But you don’t really see that. You see players in a ruck, binding into a scrum, that kind of thing, but there’s no attempt to explain what’s going on.
Fun for me, and I pretty much binged it. But I still don’t know who it’s for.