The Official Online RBS 6 Nations Store is open. The store has everything you need to get behind your team during the RBS 6 Nations, plus the store is now fully stocked with a much wider range of rugby merchandise.
Even after a season when public interest in the tournament reached colossal new heights, its box-office appeal still knows no bounds.
As befitting its status as the most watched of annual international competitions, the 2012 championship will be played to record crowds in the most recent of the six European capitals to join the circuit.
Just as the city itself wasn’t built in a day, so it has taken Rome a while to generate something approaching the numbers taken for granted elsewhere.
For their first home match of the New Year, against England, the Eternal City will have room for 72,000 paying customers in the Stadio Olimpico.
The Italian Federation’s switch from the Stadio Flaminio pending its enlargement has virtually doubled capacity at a stroke.
The switch provides the grand old championship with another grand venue if a relatively new one compared to the coliseum, the forum and other relics of ancient Rome.
A stadium built only slightly more than a mere half a century ago hosted the 1960 Olympiad when the late Wilma Rudolph ran away with three sprint golds for the USA and an 18-year-old from Louisville called Cassius Clay won the heavyweight title.
Soon it will play a leading role in bringing the Six Nations to a whole host of new converts.
Advance sales for the England match on February 11 are up towards 40,000 which already guarantees a crowd bigger than any in Rome since Italy belatedly turned the Five into Six at the turn of the century.
The prospect of the Azzurri giving England more than a run for their money will push aggregate attendances for the 15-match championship close, if not beyond, the one million mark.
Seven figure numbers are the Six Nations stock-in-trade, numbers which the organisers believe will go on rising now that they have secured a brand new deal with the BBC for four more years’ live coverage, twelve months before the current arrangement expires. Six Nations chief executive John Feehan negotiated a contract which ought to guarantee that the profile of the tournament keeps going through the roof.
“More than 30 million people in the UK watched games in last season’s championship,” he said.
“Put another way, well over 50 per cent of the population of Britain watched the Six Nations at some stage or other. That doesn’t include Ireland.
“Across the four home countries, our television viewership totalled about 125 million. “That puts the Six Nations up there with any annual sporting event anywhere in the world.
“Viewing figures in the UK averaged out at 4.7 million per game and that all added up to a 13-year high with the BBC.
“On top of all that, millions more are watching via the new media exposure like the re button and downloading on broadband.
“The BBC has been a fantastic servant of the championship over something like half a century. They really put their heart and soul into it.
“They have done, and will continue to do, a tremendous job for us. The new contract shows that the Six Nations really is a crown jewel for the BBC and we are very happy with the arrangement. We have an enduring product which really means something special for an awful lot of people.
“As soon as Christmas is over, tens of thousands will start to think about the 2012 championship and make their plans accordingly to renew old friendships and rivalries. “The championship delivers every year and you can’t ask for more than to have four different champions (England, France, Ireland, Wales) in the last four years.”
The BBC deal brings due reward for the tournament’s soaring popularity. After a Friday night opener in Cardiff last February, the 2012 schedule reverts to twelve matches on Saturday and three on Sunday. It does not mean the end of Friday night internationals.
“There are only two venues where they are able to stage a Friday night match – Paris and Cardiff,” Feehan said.
“Friday nights worked extremely well in terms of attendances and television audiences. “Would the Unions prefer Friday night to Sunday afternoon? Yes, they would. It’s just that the mixture of matches for 2012 didn’t suit a Friday night.
“About one million people will watch the 15 matches live in 2012 as they have done in recent years.
“We cannot increase that because the stadia are about as big as they can get, with the exception of Flaminio in Rome.
“Through television our aim has been to bring the competition to the widest possible audience and we are constantly looking at ways of doing that.
“As we go into the final weeks leading up to the opening round of matches, the preparation is like a well-oiled machine.
“The people concerned know what to do, when to do it and how to do it.
“We are in a very happy place but one thing we are not and that is complacent.”
2012 RBS 6 Nations schedule:
Sat February 4: France v Italy (2.30pm), Scotland v England (5.00pm).
Sun February 5: Ireland v Wales (3.00pm).
Sat February 11: Italy v England (3.00pm), France v Ireland (8.00pm)
Sun February 12: Wales v Scotland (3.00pm)
Sat February 25: Ireland v Italy (1.30pm), England v Wales (4.00pm)
Sun February 26: Scotland v France (3.00pm).
Sat March 10: Wales v Italy (2.30pm), Ireland v Scotland (5.00pm)
Sun March 11: France v England (3.00pm)
Sat March 17: Italy v Scotland (12.30pm), Wales v France (2.45pm), England v Ireland (5.00pm).