A guest post from Josh Poole (The_RugbyPost).
The stadium erupted, fans cheered and the intense rivalry boiled over. National anthems created the magical atmosphere and friends became enemies as the scrimmage began with the big, gruesome tackles supplying the entertainment, like a gladiatorial war.
France won that day back in February last year. I was ‘gutted’ like every other Welsh supporter but the thrill of being at the game was like no other.
Since then we have been consigned to our living rooms watching our rugby heroes battle it out in fan-less stadiums. Not ideal, but at least we’re getting our weekly fix of club matches.
But what would the year be like without the big beacons of our rugby calendar - the Six Nations and Lions Tour of South Africa. These events clear many fans’ calendars and even postpone holidays, but this year, it’s going to be different. With the Under 20’s and the Women’s Six Nations having been recently postponed, we live in fear that the same will happen of two of the biggest events in the 2021 rugby calendar. For now, we cling on, in hope.
For now at least, with no any fans being allowed back into stadiums, the 2021 edition will be very different. Which nation will adapt the best, which nation will take the prestigious trophy home?
With England having won both the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup in a tight period of time, they would be strong contenders for first place. After a disappointing year for Wales, would this competition have been a shot at redemption? Ireland continue to battle at the top, so they have a chance, Scotland and Italy are both rapidly competing at the top level; proving the world wrong. And France? France not only has some of the world's elite, a good squad depth, great youngsters, top quality coaches, but most of all they have massive fight and passion. Therefore, if I was a betting guy, I'd put my money on France to claim first place.
With South Africa being heavily impacted by the new CoVid variant, (at the time of writing) the Lions tour is at risk of being cancelled altogether. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as media reports suggest that it could potentially be moved to the UK and Ireland. Supporters of this say that it could revive grassroots rugby in the UK, which has been in the doldrums throughout lockdown.
Although most fans would do anything to make sure the Lions tour wasn’t disrupted by CoVid, some may have something to say about the positives of it being rescheduled to a later date and staying in South Africa - after all what's the fun of an overseas tour in your own country? And big names like Gareth Anscombe, Manu Tuilagi and Fraser Brown are just a select few who may benefit as it would give them the chance to recover from major injuries.
If the tour does go ahead – in the UK and Ireland or in South Africa – who are you backing to come out on top?
Each of the major pro leagues such as: the Pro 14, Top 14, Gallagher Premiership and Super rugby have all been impacted in one way or another by the global pandemic. With each individual club inside each league attempting to participate in as many matches as possible in order to catch up with where they left off, us rugby fans have thankfully been treated to weekend on weekend of binge watching the rugby.
As the 2019-2020 season drew to a close, the Exeter Chiefs completed a first Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup double. The Crusaders won Super Rugby Aotearoa with the Brumbies winning (the less excitingly named) Super Rugby AU and Leinster taking the Guinness Pro 14 title.
What for 2021? Whilst European Rugby pauses, we hope momentarily, due to CoVid (what else!) - the leagues are back and promising to keep fans entertained whilst they wait to get back out on the pitch themselves.
With the Women's Rugby World Cup scheduled for later in 2021, us rugby fans will have plenty to look forward to. This global tournament finally enters the southern hemisphere, for the first time, and is set to break attendance numbers – with public sale tickets due to go on sale in the coming months. The hosts New Zealand are the defending champions, but England current sit top of the world rugby rankings. 12 teams overall will take place, with just 7 of those already automatically qualified and South Africa winners of the Rugby Africa qualification spot. The introduction of tournament debutants Fiji (Fijiana), winners of the Oceania rugby womens championship, promises excitement, and if that is not all enough to get the excitement flowing, then with the match schedule announced just last week, we will see Australia take on the Black Ferns on the opening day, at Eden Park!
Tokyo Olympics 2021
With the CoVid-19 pandemic preventing the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games from going ahead, the Rugby Sevens tournament is now scheduled to take place this coming summer. The men’s event kicks off first, taking place from the 26th - 28th of July, with the women’s event starting from the 29th. We are set for a thrilling ‘Super Saturday’ with the concluding day of the tournament and the final medals being decided on Saturday 31st July. This Olympic competition never fails to create jaw dropping moments, with exciting skills, thrills and big hits plentiful. The Fijians took home the prestigious men’s Gold medal in Rio – the first Olympic medal of any colour for the island, with the Wallaroos of Australia taking home the Gold in the women’s event. Who will we see with the Gold medals around their neck this year?
The floodlights at the national stadiums are switched off. The dressing rooms are empty. The aroma of sickly alcohol that hung in the air after every game is long gone. The bright sponsorship boards no longer flash and the stadiums are eerie and quiet - but hopefully, not for too long!
By Josh Poole (The_RugbyPost) aged 14.