Six Nations 2020: Has it been the strangest championship ever?

Finn Russell, Eddie Jones and Ellis Genge
Finn Russell, Eddie Jones and Ellis Genge have all been involved in surreal incidents this season

Six Nations tournaments after Rugby World Cups are where you expect the unexpected.

Tactical tweaks, coaching changes, new stars and old expectations are overturned as teams wipe the slate clean before the Test game's four-year cycle starts to spin once more.

But 2020 has brought more curveballs than the World Series.

Here is a look back at a championship's non-stop plot twists and surreal episodes.

1. The never-ending story?

Principality Stadium
Wales v Scotland was the last of four matches postponed on the 2020 Six Nations fixture list

The Six Nations has a cosy slot in the sporting calendar, taking fans from the stinging tail end of winter to budding spring.

It all culminates in a Super Saturday season finale that ties all the story lines together and crowns the victors.

Coronavirus has wrecked those neatly laid plans.

Ireland's home match against Italy was the first to go, called off 10 days before its proposed 7 March date.

Italy v England and France v Ireland followed as the crisis rapidly deepened, with Wales v Scotland postponed just 24 hours before kick-off to ensure a wipeout of the final round of fixtures in both the men's and women's tournament.

France, England and Ireland are all in with a chance of lifting the trophy. When, though, nobody knows.

2. Finn Russell goes walkabout

Finn Russell
Russell is stuck one short of his 50th Scotland cap after walking out on the team training camp before their opening game in the Six Nations

The tournament had yet to begin when the fun and games started for Scotland.

Before the opening round, star fly-half Finn Russell walked out of camp after a dispute with coach Gregor Townsend. Initially, it seemed to be about what constituted a sufficient number of beers on a team social evening. It soon became clear that the rift ran deeper than that.

"Eight years I've had him as a coach, and I don't really know him at all," said Russell of Townsend,external-link who he worked with at former club Glasgow.

"It doesn't look like there will be any change to align himself to the agreed standards of behaviours that this group are currently living by," replied Townsend the next day.

While the pair crossed words in the media, Scotland's campaign continued without Russell. On the pitch at least.

After turning out for French side Racing 92, hanging with friends in Dubaiexternal-link and some tentative peace talks, Russell was finally back involved in Scotland's preparation for their win over France, offering insight into the players he had played with and against in the Top 14.

Like Test rugby as a whole though, it is not yet clear when we will see Russell back in action.

3. The fondle

Every Six Nations needs a crossover moment, some viral incident to grab the attention of the mainstream sports fan.

Joe Marler grabbing opposition skipper Alun Wyn Jones by the crotch would probably not have been the one chosen by organisers.

The England prop's over-intimate attempt at gamesmanship in his team's win over Wales earned him a 10-week ban.

Considering Marler will turn 30 in July and has already retired from Test rugby once, might it be a suitably strange note to end his international career on?

4. The fumble

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg is a specialist in long-range tries.

As a teenager, the full-back announced himself on the international scene with an audacious 60-metre effort against England Saxons. In 2017, he came up within a couple of metres of a memorable last-minute game-levelling try against New Zealand after breaking free on halfway.

But, with his side seven points down in the second half against Ireland on the opening weekend, he contrived to fluff a simple dot-down after taking a pass under little pressure two yards from the whitewash.

Maybe there is something in the Aviva Stadium air. In March 2019, at the same venue, Ireland and Ulster wing Jacob Stockdale also dropped the ball over the line for his province in a Champions Cup quarter-final defeat.

5. 'Sausages'

'We shut up the critics' says try-scorer Genge

Players' post-match interview tend to be a tightly controlled selection of soundbites.

Not when Ellis Genge gets his go.

The Leicester prop was on duty after scoring the decisive try against Scotland in England's Calcutta Cup win.

A swig of the sponsor's best mid-question, a description of the team's critics as "sausages" and a narrowly avoided swear bomb.

No wonder head coach Eddie Jones was grinning like a proud uncle, just out of shot.

6. The reappearing prop

Mako Vunipola
Mako Vunipola in action for Saracens three days after being stood down by England

Wednesday, 4 March: England stand down prop Mako Vunipola for the match against Wales after he travels through Hong Kong airport on his return from a trip to Tonga.

Later that day: Vunipola trains with club side Saracens.

Friday, 6 March: Public Health England criticises England's decision to exclude Vunipola.

Saturday, 7 March: Vunipola plays in Saracens' win over Leicester on the same day that England beat Wales across London at Twickenham.

Just another few days of in the life of the 2020 Six Nations.

7. An actual punch!

Fisticuffs form some of rugby's most infamous moments.

The abiding image of former England second row Paul Ackford's career may be being slugged by a teenage Federico Mendez in a Test against Argentina in 1990.

But, with the game being filmed from every angle and a red card awaiting any assailant, such blatant violence is thankfully rare in the modern game.

At least, it was until France prop Mohamed Haouas went retro and landed a haymaker on Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie.

He was sent packing and France's Grand Slam hopes went with him.

And all that is before we even get into England coach Eddie Jones being rebuked by his own bosses, South Africa being rumoured to make an entryexternal-link into the tournament in 2024 and Storm Dennis boomeranging kicks back over their owners' heads.

It has not been a classic year. It has, though, been unforgettable.

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