A debate that has raged for years across the rugby forums was reignited after some of the impressive tier two performances at the Rugby World Cup: should there be consideration for Six Nations expansion? This could be in the form of Georgia and Romania’s permanent inclusion to create the Eight Nations, or through the implementation of a promotion and relegation system in which the team who finish top of the European Nations Cup replace the team who finished last in the Six Nations for the following season.
The primary argument for Six Nations expansion is that it fulfils World Rugby’s much publicised objective of growing rugby globally and providing more support to the second tier nations. Georgia have already proved that they can successfully stage international matches when they hosted Samoa in front of 18,000 passionate fans in Tblisi. Samoa’s team included Premiership stars such as James Johnston, Ofisa Treviranus and Kahn Fotuali’i yet they were stunned 16-15 by Georgia. Likewise, in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Romania came within ten minutes of beating Scotland, a Six Nations stalwart.
The Six Nations itself became the successor of the Five Nations when Italy joined in 2000. Despite a slow start and a period as the whipping boys of the Championship, Italy have provided the Six Nations with some of the best moments such as that memorable game against France in 2011. Furthermore, they have beaten every team in the competition except for England. Overall, Italy have greatly contributed to the competition and it would now be impossible to imagine the tournament without them.
In a similar fashion, joining the Rugby Championship has caused Argentina to improve to such an extent that they reached the semi finals of this year’s World Cup. Opening the Six Nations to Georgia and Romania would cause world rugby to be more competitive and slightly less predictable.
On the other hand, if a promotion/relegation system was introduced and a team such as France finished last, as happened in 2013, then some of the fierce rivalries that make the Six Nations so great could be lost. This could impact on ticket sales and revenue for both the Six Nations and the matches that the relegated team would play in the European Nations Cup.
Another issue with such a system is that it is likely that the promoted team would be relegated the following season, as often happens in the Aviva Premiership, hindering instead of helping Georgia or Romania’s development.
In conclusion, a permanently expanded Six Nations would benefit all those involved much more than a promotion/relegation system. However, an Eight Nations would take up more time in the busy rugby season impacting on player safety, so this negative would have to be vastly outweighed by the positives for the developing nations.