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With the success of Drive to Survive, more and more sports look to Netflix as their stronghold for introducing their championships to prospective fans. One series that stood out to me in particular was Six Nations: Full Contact, marketed as a Netflix Sports series, perhaps implying more of these types of series are to come? Now, if you’re familiar with my work here on Label you’ll know I am a huge motorsport fan and for the most part that’s where my interest in sports grinds to a screeching halt. However, something caught my attention here and I just had to check it out to see if it could sell rugby to me in the same way Drive to Survive did all those years ago…

Glowing Praise

Six Nations: Full Contact does a few things really well. It gives a pretty equal look at all six teams across its eight episodes, focusing on the basic aspects of the sport to initiate new fans like myself. The first episode opens with some exciting plays from Scotland vs England – including a brilliant run to the try line from Van Der Merwe – that set the scene for what the sport is all about. These close-up visuals and slow mo’s made the plays easy to understand and exciting to watch unfold.  The documentarians place heavy emphasis on the warfare that occurs on pitch and keep things exciting by emphasising the surprisingly complex emotions behind all of their actions. Discovering the layered mentality embedded within athletes that I’d previously characterised as brutal meatheads shed new light on my shallow assumptions. I also got to learn about the strategic mind-games and the power of sports psychology on a players’ performance which surprised and further engaged me with the sport.

Duhan Van Der Merwe on the run for a lucrative try for Scotland. Souce: @duhanvandermerwe on Instagram

Striking Similarities

Perhaps some of the glossy appeal laid in its glaring similarities to the DTS format: focus on a couple of key players from two teams as well as their respective coaches, have an omnipresent broadcaster voice in Ugo Monye (though I appreciated the biased voices from other commentators in France, Ireland and Scotland) and place heavy focus on the effects that games and plays have on the players and coaches. The structure is also similar, working slowly through the season (somewhat) chronologically through key flashpoints to build effective narratives of dominant Ireland, wrestling France and Scotland and potential wooden-spooners Italy and Wales. It did feel at times like the only thing that separated the two shows was the fact it was a different sport, but if it ain’t broke…

Ugo Monye is a long-standing broadcaster for rugby, and is the equivalent of Drive to Survive’s Will Buxton, but with less of the dramatic metaphor-first delivery. Source: @ugomonye on Instagram

A Couple of Cons

As the show carries on a lot of DTS’s appeal, it also inherits its shortcomings, too. Most episodes revolve around a particular message: no matter whether you win or lose, there’s always pressure and emotion put on the individual and team. While the emotional turmoil of being in such a high-octane and brutal sport is important to recognise, it starts to detract from the quality of the insight the documentary could provide new fans. It also felt like the show’s messages about rugby built on teamwork could have benefitted from more interviews from other team members – even if it was for one or two comments. The hyperfocus on certain players like Negri, Fickou and Rees-Zammit, whilst interesting, made me forget that there were another 14 players on their side of the field. Had the show cut the perspectives about the pressures and challenges of the sport across the squad or explained more clearly some of the inner working of the sport like scrums, rucks, mauls and conversions, it would have made for a more engaging viewing experience.

French defence captain Gaël Fickou holding a keen eye the Welsh offensive. Source: @gaelfickou on Instagram

The Verdict

Well then, am I going to become the next Rugby Union superfan? Probably not – but I’m definitely going to keep half an eye on the championship this year. I have definitely gained a new appreciation for a sport I had passed by before due to its complexity and perceived physical savagery that occurs on the pitch for 80 minutes at a time. It embraces its aggression and handles the sport like a war with incredibly high stakes for the countries involved, making it all the more exciting. Most of all, though, I’ve got a brand-new look at the tactics and mind-games present in the sport as well as the emotional maturity of the athletes I had once passed by ignorantly. Maybe I’ll hit the brakes a little on motorsport as the Six Nations closes in on its final fixture…

Edited by Grace Hughes


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