The first two weekends of the 2023 Six Nations can be well summed up in two words: box office.
In the six games played so far, we've seen late winners, a plethora of try-of-the-year contenders, and some dominant performances from early front-runners Ireland and Scotland.
From Duhan van der Merwe's barnstorming brace of tries to beat England at Twickenham, to Ireland's demolition of reigning champions France in Dublin, rounds one and two have shown the tournament at its very best, captivating fans of the sport both casual and obsessive.
Since the game finally went professional in 1995, rugby union has expanded massively across the globe, with the upcoming 2023 World Cup in France set to be the sport's biggest event yet. The last edition was the first to be played outside of the traditional heartlands, with Japan 2019 a roaring success in a nation that has truly embraced the sport since the dawn of the professional era.
With the news that US streaming giant Netflix are sending their cameras into the camps of each Six Nations side throughout this campaign and are also taking a deep dive into the World Cup this autumn, The Sporting News examines how these documentaries could look, and just what the global exposure could do for 'Rugby's Greatest Championship', both on and off the field.
Six Nations Netflix series: Release date, how to watch
A full release date is yet to be confirmed by Netflix, but we know that the documentary will air in 2024, up to 12 months after the conclusion of the current tournament. The storylines and drama built up in 2023's Six Nations — and the World Cup beyond — will have had plenty of time to develop by then, and the potential behind-the-scenes information regarding them will have fans hooked.
Like many of its sporting productions, such as Formula One's Drive to Survive and tennis' Break Point, Netflix's Six Nations series will be available to watch with a standard membership and further advertisements for the series will be published closer to that 2024 release date.
What can we expect the documentary to cover?
Sporting coverage, films and docu-series are nothing new for streaming sites such as Netflix, with recent Amazon documentaries Anybody's Game, No Woman No Try and Oceans Apart profiling specific stories of players across the globe and their respective journeys into the sphere of international rugby union.
Amazon in particular have gone all-in with their coverage, signing a deal to cover the end-of-year internationals in 2022 and providing exclusive coverage of every game for UK viewers.
Netflix are slightly late to the party, but an in-depth, behind-the-scenes documentary covering the original international rugby tournament is a groundbreaking step in the right direction for both the site and the sport.
Despite filming currently taking place inside the respective camps of each of the six competing nations, the series itself won't air until 2024, with the World Cup-focused follow-up also likely to come out 12 months following the tournament.
Netflix's release statement for the series states that it will "take us inside the exhilarating world of the oldest and greatest annual international rugby tournament, giving fans an insight into pulsating behind the scenes moments". That suggests we'll see plenty of footage collated from the training paddock, as well as player, coach and potentially fan interviews galore.
Six Nations 2023: The state of play
The Six Nations championship has roots dating all the way back to 1882, when the first match of the old Home Nations Championship was played between Wales and England. In the 140 years since, France and Italy have come on board in 1910 and 2000 respectively, and nowadays the tournament is a staple in the sport's calendar, marking the first international matches of every year.
The 2023 tournament is only two weeks old, but we've already seen plenty of drama both on and off the pitch for the six contestants. Ireland's dominance has cemented their place as the world's No.1 side, while a resurgent Scotland have been just as good, playing some superb rugby to win two games from two and sit level with Ireland at the top of the table.
Two teams are 2 from 2 ☘️🏴— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) February 19, 2023
Who will win the Six Nations? pic.twitter.com/eGyKo343Kx
France and Italy are both yet to really fire, though. Les Bleus snuck past Italy in Rome but were put to the sword by Ireland the following week, looking a shadow of the side who stormed to the Grand Slam in 2022. An on-the-up Azzurri pushed France all the way, but a poor first-half showing saw them well beaten the next week at Twickenham.
England and Wales each came into tournament with slates wiped clean, as new head coaches Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland took the respective reins. England looked patchy in both their defeat to Scotland and win over Italy at Twickenham, while Gatland's return to Wales could scarcely have had a worse start.
Two heavy defeats to Ireland and Scotland leave them rock-bottom of the ladder, while a dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union over players' contracts has seen strike action mooted ahead of their grudge match against England.
What can we expect from Netflix's Six Nations series?
Since first airing in 2019, Formula One's popularity — particularly in the US — has been on the up thanks to the widespread impact of Netflix's Drive to Survive series. Recently renewed for a fifth season, which will kick off in February 2023, the newfound access to drivers, crews and organisers has given the sport a new dimension for casual viewers and new fans.
Both Drive to Survive and the upcoming Six Nations series are produced by Box to Box Films, suggesting that the behind-the-scenes access provided in the F1 series will be replicated and expanded on when the rugby-focused documentary airs in 2024.
The ongoing Wales contract disputes have already provided an insight into the scenes we could see from the teams' training camps, with newly re-hired coach Warren Gatland saying of Netflix's presence: "I can tell you that in a rugby environment, when you are talking about creating emotion, the language used isn't always appropriate. Especially when you're talking about nations playing each other."
A player strike is relatively uncharted territory when it comes to the Six Nations, and Netflix's intimate access will give viewers the chance to experience the tension and strong feeling of Wales' players at the moment, and the effects of the ongoing turmoil on the team's performance in the tournament.
European rugby and World Cup global appeal
When the 2023 Six Nations is wrapped up in mid-March and the Netflix cameras are switched off, all eyes will turn to France and the World Cup this autumn. With the tournament featuring 20 teams as opposed to six, the coverage provided by Netflix could be wildly different to that of the Six Nations.
However, the storylines will increase tenfold, as teams look to wrestle the trophy away from South Africa's grasp. The world's current top-ranked sides are both from Europe for the first time ever, as Ireland and hosts France set their sights on becoming only the second Northern Hemisphere nation to win the Webb Ellis Cup.
Can’t remember a more competitive time in world rugby. Anyone from 1-8 can realistically win the World Cup, what’s your thoughts? https://t.co/GldDVG43u4— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) February 15, 2023
The Southern Hemisphere sides won't be travelling north just to make up the numbers, though, with South Africa intent on retaining their crown and New Zealand focused on winning it back after a semi-final defeat in 2019.
Australia, under the leadership of former England coach Eddie Jones, could also spring a surprise or two, while Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have been bolstered by a relaxing in international selection rules, and their improved squads will bring the power of the Pacific with them to France.
International rugby is in rude health going into a crucial year of fixtures, and with Netflix in tow, rugby's top national sides are out to show the world just what they, and the sport itself, can do.