Review of Six Nations: Full Contact – resembles an outdated rugby highlights package in a desperate manner.
Which sport will be featured in the next glossy documentary? Following the popularity of Formula 1: Drive to Survive, the creators have shifted their focus to tennis (Break Point) and golf (Full Swing). Other sports like croquet, curling, table tennis, and tiddlywinks may also make an appearance on Netflix. Perhaps even dressage, as who doesn’t love a little horsey disco?
Before that, rugby union will take the spotlight with Six Nations: Full Contact, a robust and rugged series focused on the 2023 Six Nations Championship. This tournament is the oldest in international rugby and is filled with intense rivalries, particularly against England. The intense and physical nature of the sport is sure to provide captivating entertainment on screen.
Unfortunately, this formulaic eight-parter feels like a sports doc by numbers. The blueprint is familiar by now. Talking heads sit in front of stark black backgrounds. Drone shots and portentous captions establish each location. Immersive sound design thrusts viewers into the action. Ticking clocks and swelling music crank up the drama. Its po-faced tone means episodes are titled Let Battle Commence, On the Edge, Agony or Ecstasy and This Is Really Quite Important You Know. I made the last one up – but you get the idea.
The series is overcrowded and lacks depth because it gives equal airtime to six squads over two months. It often feels like a glorified highlight reel, which is outdated. This is due to the challenge of creating tension when the outcome is already known. Five out of six teams have new captains, and Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit, who recently switched to American Football, is highlighted. Players also discuss the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup that took place last autumn.
The absence of vibrant personalities is unhelpful. Numerous individuals speak using unoriginal sporting phrases. While Warren Gatland, coach of Wales, may be highly regarded, he appears melancholic on camera. England’s head coach, Steve Borthwick, is even more lacking in charisma. These men are more suited to wearing tracksuits than being in the spotlight. The atmosphere lacks the glamour of motorsport and the intensity of football. There are no dramatic outbursts or emotional breakdowns like those seen in “Drive to Survive” or “Break Point.” Rugby players are too composed for that. One may occasionally sense that a more interesting story is unfolding off-camera.
Disregard the flashy players in the rear position. In this sport, it is the prop forwards who offer the most worth. Among them, Ireland’s Andrew Porter and England’s Ellis Genge stand out with their captivating personalities. Despite his tough exterior of Viking-like hair and tattoos, Porter reveals his inner vulnerability as he opens up about his battle with mental health after losing his mother. Genge also shares his challenges growing up and feeling like an outcast in a sport dominated by public school players.
Sebastian Negri, a flanker from Italy, remembers last year’s Six Nations when he was knocked unconscious and began choking on his tongue. He thanks Genge for saving his life on the field, an incident that created a strong bond between them. Replays of disturbing head injuries highlight the reason for the concussion issue in rugby, but this concern is not addressed. The footage focuses on “bone-on-bone” collisions, as described by Genge.
This show focuses more on atmosphere rather than traditional reporting. To be fair, the atmosphere is quite enjoyable. The Irish have a great time with craic. The Scots have spirited group singing. Encouraging team speeches get the adrenaline pumping. The sense of camaraderie is strong. There is a lot of weightlifting and eating. It seems that muscular individuals need a high calorie intake.
The text showcases some comedic moments. After leaving a cryotherapy chamber, English full-back Freddie Steward remarks, “My nipples are extremely hard.” French center Gaël Fickou, who appears very cool, requests a camera operator to focus on his biceps without realizing his microphone is on. Italy’s coach Kieran Crowley uses strong language excessively. During a training exercise, he exclaims, “It turned into a disaster.” A final montage reveals that Crowley’s contract was not extended. It would be unfortunate for the subtitle translator if there is a second season.
The French seem to fit their stereotype well, as they are known for being more cultured. They participate in group mindfulness sessions, and player Fickou is skilled at playing the piano. The team’s coach, Fabien Galthié, is seen as stylish with his fashionable suits and glasses. He speaks of “arabesques and parabolas”, drawing parallels between rugby and honorable battle, much like Napoleon leading his armies through fields. This type of comparison would not be expected from someone like Big Sam Allardyce. Additionally, the team’s defence coach, Shaun Edwards, adds some extra entertainment with his Wigan-influenced Franglais accent.
Drive to Survive gave a sizable bump to F1’s profile. Full Contact having a similarly transformative effect feels unlikely, not least because rugby’s rules are so baffling to newcomers. The latest sporting series to join the scrum might satisfy fans but it won’t convert many newbies. Now hear me out, Netflix. Imagine how cinematic slo-mo tiddlywinks would be …
The program Six Nations: Full Contact can now be found on Netflix.