There is no doubt the Six Nations is a hugely engaging and exhilarating tournament but is the format hindering an even greater experience?
The anticipation is starting to build. As the dust settles on a fascinating final round of European club rugby, the northern hemisphere’s premier competition can now take centre stage for the next two months. The Six Nations is a competition that the European rugby nations can be proud of but does something need to be done to further enhance the tournament?
It seems strange in this day and age that the Six Nations is the only major competition in world rugby without a bonus point system. The Rugby Championship has one. So do the Pro12, Top 14, Premiership and the World Cup. Why doesn’t the Six Nations? Why hasn’t the Six Nations adopted a setup that is universally recognised and accepted throughout the game?
In order for a change to be implemented ,a complete consensus across all participating nations must be reached. This is something that has not yet been achieved.
One of the main reasons for this may be the scenario where a team could win the Grand Slam, a clean sweep of victories, and in the new format not be crowned Six Nations champions. This situation arises when Team A achieves the Grand Slam by accumulating twenty points from five wins without four try bonus points. Team B then wins four games with four try bonus points in each and loses to Team A with a losing bonus point. In doing so Team B finishes on twenty-one points and wins the Championship. While this is unlikely, it is nonetheless still a possibility. The national teams are vocal in their opposition to such an outcome.
So how could a compromise be reached? A proposal put forward by a number of commentators to prevent this anomaly would see any team that wins all five of their matches receiving additional points added to their total, allowing their total to remain higher than any other team. Such a proposal would protect the much-coveted Grand Slam title but as a direct consequence would undermine the purpose of the bonus point system.
Like in the other major competitions, winning alone does not guarantee you anything. The bonus point system puts an emphasis on teams battling until the very end. The leading team is incentivised to score four tries and the losing team strives to finish within seven points. To implement this and then reward a team just because they won all five of their games, irrespective of their performances and style of play, is contradictory. The Grand Slam is steeped in so much tradition and legacy that there is no obvious way around this fact without devaluing the accolade.
History holds huge weight in this argument. The Six Nations has evolved from the first international competition, the Home Nations Championship in 1883, to the present day competition. Players and enthusiasts, young and old will call foul when they see the beloved Grand Slam devalued. Such a long history should not be easily forgotten but there is always progress to be made. The right balance will see it remain the jewel in European rugby’s crown for years to come.
The focus of any competition format should be on enhancing the competition, improving the standard of play and creating a more enjoyable experience for fans and players.
I would vote for introducing the bonus point system and scraping any notions of rewarding additional points to the Grand Slam winning side. In my opinion if you win all your games, your style of play should be good enough that you are scoring tries and winning with bonus points. Winning the Grand Slam is currently the ultimate prize for any of the six nations competing but bringing in the bonus point system would surely lift the achievement of winning the Championship above this.
Rugby is an ever-changing game and the Six Nations needs to adapt with it. Implement the bonus point system and propel the Six Nations into the twenty-first century.
By Hugh Foyle