The Six Nations format has remained almost unchanged since its debut in 2000. The die-hard traditionalists would argue that the tournament should revert back to the original Five Nations format, while those of a more progressive nature argue that more teams should be allowed to compete in the Northern Hemisphere’s most prestigious international rugby event.
However, one thing that both groups would agree on is that it is most certainly time for a change.
In the most recent tournament, the Six Nations saw the introduction of a bonus point system, which promoted try scoring rugby and provide more entertainment to the fans. Yet, one feels that this was barking up the wrong tree entirely. As a rugby fan, I have never watched the tournament and thought the matches were boring. For example, even though the bonus point scheme was designed specifically to promote a more expansive style, there was, in fact, a decline in the number of tries scored between the 2016 and 2017 tournaments (71 in 2016 and 66 in 2017). The change doesn’t need to be in the style of rugby, it is in which teams are selected to play in the tournament.
Since their introduction into Europe’s elite 17 years ago, Italy’s national team have won just 12 matches. The Azzurri have been the recipient of the wooden spoon (awarded to the team who finishes last in the tournament) on 12 occasions. Their points difference overall is -1704 points, which is almost 1000 points worse off to the nearest team above them (Scotland). They have also failed to win a single match in 8 of the 17 tournaments they have participated in.
The Italian combination of charisma and bravado is seen by many people as enough of an asset for them to remain in the tournament. However, surely it would make sense for there to be some incentive to improve?
What options are on the table?
Many have argued that a two-tier league system would allow for a more competitive tournament. This would not just be at the bottom of the table, but also throughout, as teams do not want to risk being relegated to the second tier.
National sides such as Romania, Spain, and Russia are all within range of Italy in the World Rankings and there are already the foundations for this concept in what is known as the Rugby Europe International Championships. There are seven divisions in these championships all of which already contain the promotion and relegation format. Surely to integrate the Six Nations into these divisions would provide far greater entertainment for those at the bottom of the table and those at the top of the second tier?
This idea is by far the most popular to develop the tournament. Although there have been other ideas – such as a world league to include the likes of New Zealand and other Southern Hemisphere nations – most agree that this would not be logistically possible annually. With the extreme distances to be travelled the time scale of the tournament would have to be changed and most would agree that this is one of the fundamental pillars of the tournament.
I believe change is almost inevitable. Introducing the bonus point system proves that the council is not tied to tradition while always looking to improve the tournament. Italy, simply have not improved enough over their time in the Six Nations. Allowing other nations the chance to compete at Europe’s highest international level seems the next logical step for the progression of the Six Nations.
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