Will kicking spoil the Six Nations?

THERE was almost a tone of resignation in Warren Gatland’s voice this week when he mentioned the dreaded k-word.

It is barely a fortnight until the 2010 RBS 6 Nations Championship begins.

Coaches and captains from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy will assemble in London next Wednesday for the tournament launch – a high-profile talking shop before the serious business starts.

The k-word though, is unlikely to go away, and it could end up blighting the whole championship.

Rugby fans everywhere are keeping fingers crossed for box-office blockbusters served up by great entertainers like Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, Vincent Clerc and Delon Armitage.

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But is it a vain hope? Reality suggests the k-word – kicking – will dominate.

Teams terrified of the breakdown lottery and conceding penalties within kickable range seem set to opt for safety-first tactics – smash the ball downfield, try to win the so-called ‘kick and clatter’ encounter that follows and then see what unfolds.

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Sadly, for those who enjoy running rugby, the statistics deliver an overwhelming, if depressing, verdict – those teams that currently kick most tend to win.

And you sense Wales boss Gatland, although he did not say so in as many words, fears for this year’s Six Nations.

“The stats show that the team that kicks the most, wins most,” he acknowledged.

“That is the biggest thing I have noticed from the autumn Tests this season, and how much things had moved on and increased in 12 months.

“Wales have kicked less than any side. So, you’re probably right if you think that the Wales people know might not be the same.

“We’ve tried to play in a positive fashion and will continue to do that, but we’ve got to be smart as well, bring more variety into our kicking game.

“I do have concerns about it all. The game as a spectacle has become disappointing.’’

As ever, the Six Nations stakes are high, so it is not unrealistic to expect risk-free rugby from its participants.

Winning, ultimately, is all that really matters in professional sport, and if kicking more really does equate with being victorious more often, then no coach will seriously consider an alternative way of playing.

The Six Nations is northern hemisphere rugby union’s shop window.

But do not be surprised in the 2010 version if someone puts a brick – or should that be a boot? - right through the middle of it.

The passing of Bill McLaren this week met with many wonderful tributes from the great and good throughout planet rugby.

Once, I had the privilege of being in his company socially and was immediately struck by his humility and embracing warmth.

It was only for 15 minutes, with a group of us enjoying one of those eve-of-Five Nations Test sponsor’s nights they used to have just off Princes Street in Edinburgh.

The following day, Scotland and Wales produced a classic Murrayfield encounter, but that hardly seemed to matter.

I had met the incomparable Bill McLaren – and that meant a whole lot more.

Stade Francais are in danger of becoming as big a joke as their garish multi-coloured playing shirts.

The aggrieved Parisians cannot get their collective head around respective 70-week and 23-week bans for gouging that were imposed on prop David Attoub and scrum-half Julien Dupuy.

Dupuy appealed his suspension, getting it reduced by one week, and now Attoub is set on the same course of action, despite experienced disciplinary chief Jeff Blackett labelling his offence “the worst kind of contact with the eyes I have had to deal with’’.

Stade though, are predictably ranting and raving.

Their coach Jacques Delmas was quoted this week as saying: “Everyone in the team is very affected by this. It is still the hundred years war with ERC (European Rugby Cup).’’

Jacques, me old son, if your boys can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime, as the saying goes.

Any more outbursts of this nature, and ERC should really give Stade something to think about – and hit the likes of Delmas with a disrepute charge.

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