Six Nations: Full Contact review - How Laughing Boy beat Lucky Pants and other rugby stories, captured by Netflix

Bone-juddering hits, bleeped-out team-talks and budgie smugglers … all part of Netflix’s bid to sell rugby to new territories.

The super-tight swimming briefs are worn by Stuart Hogg while Scotland were still in with a chance of the last Six Nations – shortly before the bottom fell out of his world through a combination of enforced retirement and lurid tabloid headlines.

The US streaming giant’s previous series Formula 1: Drive to Survive, boosted interest in Grand Prix in America but you might wonder if sports fans there more accustomed to the NFL will wince right from the start of Six Nations: Full Contact as Ireland prop Andrew Porter struggles to make an argument for one of his bloodied, mashed-up ears being in better nick than the other. And if it hasn’t done so already, you can imagine the Stateside version of the oval ball game greeting new recruit from Wales Louis Rees-Zammit thus: “Here’s your shoulder-pads and crash helmet, mate, we can see why you left.”

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The eight-part series airs from today and Scotland fans aware of their history may bristle at the repeated references to us bidding to break new ground with victories in the opening two games for the first time in the tournament. True, that hadn’t been done in the Six Nations before though back in the last century, how ever were those Grand Slams achieved? But the access-all-areas show manages to produce moments of fascination and occasionally revelation as Scotland hog – and Hogg – most of the action in the opening instalment.

Duhan van Der Merwe features for his exploits against England.Duhan van Der Merwe features for his exploits against England.
Duhan van Der Merwe features for his exploits against England.

It begins in a rain-lashed Alicante, Scotland’s training base for England at Twickenham, and as the squad gathers most of the banter is directed at the full-back’s voluminous new hairstyle. “We’ve brought the weather with us,” jokes head coach Gregor Townsend before he gets serious: “Why are we in Spain? To get ready to win that trophy.” England stay at home to prepare for the Calcutta Cup and Red Rose boss Steve Borthwick, just in the door, seems apprehensive about the task ahead. Out of shot a voice says: “Tell me about Scotland – what worries you the most?” There’s a long pause and if he did answer we don’t know because nifty editing cuts him off.

Finn Russell goes before the camera: “Some people might say I’m, like, good to watch,” chirrups the maverick maestro of the half-back line. “If they’re football fans they might say … Messi!” His opposite number that day introduces himself: “Marcus Sebastian Smith.” He talks about his “lucky pants”, combining the flag of the Philippines where he was born with the Union Jack.

Russell addresses his chucklesome demeanour: “Some folk think it means I don’t care but they’re wrong.” He admits to not being the best trainer and we see him clamber over hurdles, hands in pockets. Then both player and coach tackle their occasionally problematic relationship. Townsend: “Stubbornness from both sides has meant that at times we haven’t connected well.” Russell, reflecting on having been left out of the squad and telling Townsend: “You have to be clear on what you want me to do when I come back to camp. [It can’t just be] holding a bag or for you and me to argue … ”

This is elite sport and high-pressure. Still, you might be surprised by how much Townsend swears pre-kickoff. “Believe in the reasons you’re here. Take this f*****g opportunity. Go and f*****g grab it.” As is the Netflix way, slow-motion and a thundering soundtrack intensify the hits and most are aimed at Russell. He says: “At the bottom of a ruck a couple of the England boys were mouthing off to me and one of them pushed my head into the ground.” Still, if the opposition were preoccupied with him, someone else might have a shot at the tryline. Cue Duhan van der Merwe.

Finn Russell - Scottish rugby's McMessi - takes it all at the first team briefing of the 2023 Six Nations, captured in a new Netflix documentaryFinn Russell - Scottish rugby's McMessi - takes it all at the first team briefing of the 2023 Six Nations, captured in a new Netflix documentary
Finn Russell - Scottish rugby's McMessi - takes it all at the first team briefing of the 2023 Six Nations, captured in a new Netflix documentary

I’ll never tire of the winger’s first score that afternoon and Netflix’s unique camerawork only magnifies its stupendousness. In celebration, Russell couldn’t resist a jibe at Smith and some of the big lumps who’d downed him: “I just went: ‘What’s that you’re sayin’ noo?’” Van der Merwe’s second try wasn’t bad either. The fantastic handwork of Richie Gray and Matt Fagerson goes uncredited because, even in a great team sport like rugby, Netflix stories must have that man, that hero, and it’s Russell. Laughing Boy vanquishes Lucky Pants.

In the next game against Wales (Townsend: “I don’t give a f*** about them”) the individual acclaim was certainly merited for the playmaker’s outrageous punted passes and underarm flicks. After a beery, changing-room rendition of “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”, the boss muses some more on how it’s gone with his 10: “There are regrets. At one stage I thought it would be all over. But sometimes disruption in a relationship can make things stronger.”

Scotland re-enter the narrative in a later episode, in Paris, which at the time Russell called home. With their daughter Charlie in his arms, partner Emma Canning is apprehensive about the special treatment her man might receive from France. “Don’t target him too much … not the face!” she wails. Russell: “I’m not going off to war, it’s just a game of rugby.” Emma: “It feels like you are.” The French win – just. “Who are these guys? We don’t give a s***,” says Gael Fitou beforehand. But afterwards the centre admits: “I’m knackered. Frankly, I want a career change.”

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Hogg has one these days, and though he’s the focus of the penultimate instalment as he marks his 100th cap, the injury which forced him off, the defeat to Ireland and subsequently his private life shifting him from the back pages to the front, will surely make Six Nations: Full Contact a poignant watch.



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