Gareth Davies, Chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union hinted this week that the Six Nations Council may radically alter the tournament. During their annual review, the key issues likely to be addressed are: bonus points, timing of the tournament during the season, and promotion/relegation. All members will meet to discuss reasons why the Six Nations Needs Radical Revamps.
Currently, no bonus points are awarded in the Six Nations, unlike virtually all other rugby tournaments in the world. Despite excitement provided during the final round of competition in 2015, points-difference was an unsatisfying way to decide a championship. In that climactic end, Ireland just pipped England and Wales solely on points-difference (63 points+/- to England’s 57) Wales were very nearly able to claim the title following Italy’s second-half surrender, piling on 47 points. Ireland were triumphant only thanks to an extra-ordinary 10-40 win away to Scotland.
Furthermore, in 2016, the drawn match between Wales and Ireland in round one made it very difficult for them to challenge England. That is because no bonus points were available. This would be the minimum acceptable addition to next season’s tournament for many.
Six Nations Needs Radical Revamps
Next discussion point might be growing calls for teams such as Romania or Georgia to be able to join the tournament. Italy’s continued struggles have played a part in this. The Azzurri failed to win a match in 2016 for the seventh-time. In comparison, Georgia demonstrated in the Rugby World Cup that they are improving rapidly under New Zealander Milton Haig. It also appears that they have outgrown the European Nations Cup, having won it for the last six years.
The big question is whether the tournament would remain at six nations? Could one country be relegated and one promoted? Or, might Georgia be invited to join an expanded tournament?
The relegation idea may give the likes of Scotland and France; who have both picked up the wooden spoon in recent years. Could that be some motivation to compete with more purpose. However, this could also promote negative rugby as countries simply try ‘not to lose’ in order to avoid relegation. As a World Rugby Statistical Report shows: an average of 2.9 tries per game were scored in the Six Nations in 2015. During the ‘infamous’ final round, that number shot up to nine tries per game, because teams were chasing tries and big victories.
Relegation/promotion has many fans, and just as many detractors. As would an additional team.
Time To Expand The Six Nations?
An expanded tournament requires fitting even more games into an already congested season calendar. Player welfare is a hot topic due to the ever-increasing rise in concussions and career ending injuries. The Rugby World Cup and Summer Tours extended home nations’ 2015/2016 season to almost a full year. Wales had over 360 days before facing the All Blacks, and it becomes evident that elite international players play too many games already.
Where would extra six nations games go? Davies suggests that the tournament could be moved to April, so the domestic season has a clear run-in from Christmas. As a result, International squads can be together throughout the Six Nations. Then, importantly, into Summer Internationals against the Southern Hemisphere. If changed, would this have improved for example Wales’ chances against New Zealand in the series just gone? Possibly, although England seemed to manage to pick-up from where they left off [in Six Nations]. They built on that form further during the tour of Australia. A clean-sweep of the three test series, it continued their unbeaten Grand Slam in March.
Even with that, the knock on effect of this proposed calendar change would affect domestic seasons in England, France and applicable for the Celtic Pro 12 League too. It would require significant change that might be potentially unpopular. Ultimately though, it must be aligned to improvements for player welfare and that factor has to take precedence.
Revised calendar and Player Welfare concerns
Whatever the Six Nations Council discusses, it needs to make big decisions to improve the tournament in the long-term. All members will bring options to the table. Right now, the Six Nations is in a very strong commercial position and is one of the pinnacle competitions in the global rugby calendar.
If they can improve the rugby product immediately, then who knows how receptive clubs may be to change? By introducing more attacking rugby through ‘bonus points’ they may now be open to alternative schedules, expansion or more international games.
“Main photo credit”