Six Nations: Full Contact, Netflix
Sometimes you wish that sports documentary makers would ignore the players who really want to be on TV.
The decision to send the Netflix cameras to last year’s rugby Six Nations was a late decision apparently and many teams and players, including Ireland, were cagey about taking part.
Not surprisingly then, the producers were desperate for willing participants.
That’s not to diminish important stories about the mental health struggles of Ireland prop Andrew Porter and how England’s Ellis Genge believes rugby saved him from going down a dangerous path.
France’s Gael Fickou is an engaging and interesting character, but Louis Rees-Zammit (who dropped rugby to try and make it in the NFL just as the documentary was released) Warren Gatland and Steve Borthwick added little.
And we’ve heard it all before from France’s defence coach Shaun Edwards, the hard man of rugby league.
No, the people we wanted to hear from were the ones in the background. The deep, dark, cunning ones - Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell, Tadhg Furlong, Uini Atonio and the world’s greatest player, Antoine Dupont
We wanted the team meetings where senior players and the coaches worked out a strategy for the match.
Imagine a camera hovering as Andy Farrell, Sexton, Paul O’Connell and James Ryan hatched a plan to shut down Dupont ahead of France’s visit to Dublin last year.
The video analysis guy laying out the options, O’Connell clenching his jaw and pointing at who he wanted smashed. Farrell making the final call.
The day after the game we join them again in the review room as they discuss what worked and what didn’t.
It’s probably too much to wish for. Professional athletes are never going to allow that kind of access.
You have to go back to the dawn of sports documentaries for genuine insight into the team dynamic.
Living With Lions, the inside story of the Lions 1997 tour to South Africa, was revolutionary and a watershed for this genre. Crucially, rugby union had only just turned professional, and the culture of amateurism remained.
There were no PR people and sports agents around when it was filmed.
We were in the team meetings, the dressing room, the sick bay, the pub, the nightclub and the player’s kangaroo court. The players even took turns behind the camera themselves.
Since the success of Drive to Survive, Netflix has been desperate to get another rush of its amazing viewing figures.
Break Point (tennis) and Full Swing (golf) followed from the same producers and now it’s rugby. Netflix is back to the Six Nations this year so we can expected a Full Contact part two in 2025.
Who knows where it will go next, but here’s a tip for Netflix – the ultimate amateur sport, GAA. They’re not known for being keen on media access but by God there’s character and passion.
That’s not to say Full Contact is not worth a watch with Six Nations excitement building after Ireland’s historic win over France last weekend.
Over eight episodes it follows last year’s championship and is an excellent introduction to the game and the wonders of the amazing Six Nations.
It lacks some context on the history and traditions of the world’s oldest rugby competition, but it loves big collisions and the gladiatorial nature of the sport.
And here’s a nice bonus about the Netflix series if you watch it as a companion to this year’s live competition. Ireland win.
They won the Grand Slam in 2023 and are odds-on to do the same again this year. If they do it they’ll be the first nation to win 10 matches in a row since the tournament added Italy in 2000.