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Fans are what make the Six Nations special and never more so than when on the road

R IGHT.

Fans lap up the atmosphere as Ireland and Wales do battle at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Getty Images
Fans lap up the atmosphere as Ireland and Wales do battle at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Getty Images

In this age of perpetual reinvention, it's about time we had a new European rugby tournament to take the place of the RBS 6 Nations. One that incorporates all the elements pundits have been suggesting for years.

It will be played on a home-and-away basis. There will be promotion and relegation. There will be bonus points. If teams are level after 80 minutes there will be penalty shoot-outs. There will be midweek games to please the broadcasters and showpiece matches in Hong Kong to broaden the commercial reach. There will be lots of people talking about the importance of social media.

Fancy it? Me neither. However, the clamour for all - well, most - of the above is one of the Six Nations' most persistently irksome soundtracks, only marginally less annoying than Sir Clive Woodward's post-match comments on the BBC.

To listen to some people you would think the tournament is a basket case rather than the glorious festival it has become. In all of sport there is nothing less broken, nothing so clearly not needing to be fixed .

Tinker, by all means. Add a bit of polish here, a modest innovation there. But don't, for heaven's sake, tamper with the most central, most joyful, most precious part of the thing. Don't mess with the fact it is a tournaments made for - indeed, made by - the fans. And not those who park themselves in their armchairs over its five winter-into-spring weekends.

Yes, they underwrite the Six Nations by boosting the broadcasters' body count, but the real medals should be for those who pitch up and pay the admission money, especially those who travel, often in more hope than expectation, to follow their team.

Long after bad results are forgotten, good memories linger on. These days, there are online databases that can tell you who won, who lost and who scored in every game, but they say nothing of what we really remember after these trips: the laughter, the bonhomie, the fine food, the dodgy drinks, the occasionally surreal juxtapositions along the way.

For me, last year's most memorable moment occurred not on any pitch, but when I was strolling through the centre of Paris with Rob Robertson of the Daily Mail. As we came round a corner, Rob's arm shot out. This was followed by a cry of "Look! It's Eddie Izzard!" The cross-dressing comedian - Eddie, not Rob - said a polite (if slightly embarrassed) hello, and toddled off in the opposite direction.

So it's all just a series of sideshows then? The rugby doesn't actually matter after all? Eh, no. To think of a Six Nations trip as some sort of city break weekend with a kickabout in the middle would miss the point entirely. What distinguishes these games and these occasions is the part played, even the influence exerted, by the fans.

The Rugby Championship, as the Tri Nations was modestly renamed after Argentina's arrival in 2012, has thrown up some splendid games, and there can be no doubting the absolute quality of an event that involves three of the top four sides in the world.

Yet it would be pushing it to say there has been a compelling competitive bite to the thing in the two tournaments played in the expanded format, In that time, New Zealand have not lost a game, and Argentina have not won one.

That, of course, will change. But unless someone finds a way of speeding up the tectonic plates beneath their respective continents, our friends in the south are stuck with a competition whose geography rules out the possibility of supporters travelling in significant numbers and is much the poorer for that.

Over the past 50 years, France have been the most successful of all the Five/Six Nations sides, winning or sharing the title 19 times. Over that period, however, a staggering 80% success rate at home has been offset by a far less impressive 50% in away games.

Down the years, French players have been branded bad travellers. I'd suggest that some of the blame should go their supporters, who - and this applies to their domestic competitions as well - attend away matches in far smaller numbers than their counterparts in the home nations.

Given the wretchedness of France against Wales last weekend, perhaps the French Federation should be laying on cheap flights to Edinburgh for the game against Scotland in 10 days' time. Or at least trying to instigate the cultural change needed to get their fans travelling en masse to away games. There is no question Scotland were boosted by the support they had in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, as the players acknowledged - perhaps just a little too exuberantly - at the end.

AND ANOTHER THING

When I was learning, or at least trying to learn, French at school, I was always puzzled as to why they needed two words for "you". I could understand "tu" was singular and "vous" plural but the honorific/familiar vous/tu rules baffled me.

When to use one and not the other? Would somebody think I was being too forward by slipping in a tu when we were still on vous terms?

Thankfully, the French sports paper Midi Olympique has cleared up the confusion. Reporting on France captain Pascal Papé's all-round stroppiness towards Irish referee (and fluent French speaker) Alain Rolland, it revealed that Papé had been ticked off by his coach, Philippe Saint-André, for disrespecting the official by addressing him as tu, not vous. Rolland, in his last Test match, was duly offended.

French referees may not always be right. But they are always, repeat always, vous.

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