Six Nations provides welcome relief after weeks of turbulence in rugby

Rugby has been under a cloud during two turbulent weeks with crises in the English and Welsh domestic games threatening to engulf the sport, but the Six Nations provides welcome respite from the storm. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The noise around rugby in the past couple of weeks has been deafening and so for one weekend more than ever in recent memory, the three Six Nations games have to deliver to silence the off-field hullabaloo.

How long ago the third round of the Six Nations seems; memories of that remarkable final quarter in Cardiff, the spirit in Rome and the resurgent, correctly-positioned French seem consigned to another realm such has been the racket from the boardrooms and the corridors of power in the interim as rugby battles to deal with the 23-year hangover from the advent of professionalism.

In the last two weeks, players who usually toe the party line found a voice and rose up against the paymasters.

Welsh rugby descended into a messy civil war where 'Project Reset' -- applicable to the whole of the game -- quickly became less a chance to start again and more a rabble.

Then there were stories breaking in the English game about whether business interests between player and owner were a way of circumnavigating the salary cap.

And hovering above all that, the sport was caught blindsided over reports detailing a supposed structure for a global tournament for a handful of years hence.

Then came counter-statement and now a state of purgatory pending further round-table chin-stroking where at the moment there is glorious opportunity to get things right, but those good intentions will have to out-weigh the murkiness of corporate Machiavellianism and self-protectionism.

Rugby has a habit of eating itself, but the players actually bleeding and sweating for the cause offer some solace from the off-field howling at the moon.

For three glorious games, we have the chance to block out the babble and enjoy the game for what it is: sport.

The weekend starts in Edinburgh with Scotland looking to kick-start their ailing campaign against the undefeated Welsh.

Warren Gatland's side are favourites and -- on the face of it -- offer a settled, safe prospect for victory with just one change from the side that beat England.

They have been trying their utmost to shut out the noise from the regions amid talk of mergers, resignations and general uncertainty in what is termed 'Project Reset', analysing the future of Wales' domestic rugby scene.

Ken Owens, the Wales captain, said earlier in the week talk of a potential merger between the Scarlets and Ospreys was the "most challenging situation" he has faced, and while he said the frustration at the off-field situation would galvanise his team, Gatland admitted the insecurity has been a distraction.

"It has been tough," Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said at their captain's run on Friday. "We've been a bit splintered this campaign, but there has been communication with the senior group and we've tried to reassure as much as we can.

"Whatever career you are in, you always have other distractions. Ultimately, we are professional rugby people and we focus on the rugby, that's the easy bit. We are not politicians, so we don't have to delve too much into that."

Scotland have to navigate past the obstacle of not being able to control their overseas players' workloads in fallow weeks and while they have Finn Russell back at their disposal after he recovered from a concussion suffered in the Top 14, they are without Chris Harris and Sean Maitland who were both injured on Gallagher Premiership duty.

Their Six Nations campaign has been a disappointment so far, but be mindful of Robert Burns' sentiments: "There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing." Scotland will want to right wrongs and build momentum.

Those lyrics will also hover above Twickenham in the second match of the weekend when England face Italy.

Conor O'Shea's side are perennially bracketed with the meritocracy debate over the long-term format of the Six Nations, but he was in bullish form Thursday as he welcomed the new Nations Championship format and warned against writing off his team. They will go to Twickenham to play, but also must work out how to nullify the gigantic England team.

The England backline featuring Manu Tuilagi, Joe Cokanasiga and Ben Te'o are the biggest group Eddie Jones has ever fielded, but while his team are overwhelming favourites to beat Italy -- priced at 50/1 to upset the hosts -- they have also been exposed to outside noise with questions raised over Saracens' managing of the salary cap.

Jamie George said the Saracens contingent have taken "some stick" over the reports questioning their management of the salary cap -- Nigel Wray, the Saracens owner, has since emphasised the club have nothing to hide over his business partnerships with certain senior players.

It serves as more outside noise as the game scrambles to find a structure balancing success and sustainability.

With England having been told their fortune by Wales in round three, expect Jones' side to throw everything and the Sinckler at Italy on Saturday.

It shows how off-the-wall rugby is at the moment that serenity can be found in the French side, who are unchanged from their round three win over Scotland.

Having finally grown immune to the temptation of picking players out of position, they reverted to a more conservative tactic of placing round pegs in round holes and trusting their abundance of talented youth. How refreshing!

When Ireland, the pre-tournament favourites, kick off on Sunday, they will have a better handle on their championship fate and will know the ramifications over the final weekend and how they can re-rail the title back to Ireland.

Wales and England's prospects on Saturday could serve as a distraction for Joe Schmidt's side, but his meticulous nature will leave nothing to chance in the hands of others and, in turn, he will emphasise the need for unrelenting introspection and precision when they run out in Dublin.

Wins for Wales, England and Ireland will tee up a final, glorious, Super Saturday where any one of three teams will be able to win the championship.

What a mouth-watering, enticing prospect it could be but it needs rugby, the sport, to block out the noise and focus on the pitch this weekend. The Six Nations needs this trio of matches to deliver and to steer the narrative around the game back to the field rather than the boardrooms.