At Rugby Europe’s meeting on March 9 in Paris, the board of directors formalised a request for Six Nations Limited to admit other nations to their tournament.
“The development of rugby in Europe entails each Union having the opportunity to play regularly with the best teams in order to raise standards,” said Octavian Morariu, President of Rugby Europe.
“Promotion / relegation system belongs to Rugby Europe ethical code in all our competitions.”
The Rugby Europe board consists of 17 members, representing 48 nations, and the request was passed unanimously.
So far, it has not been officially sent to Six Nations Limited, but when it is, will they throw it out with the usual contempt or look to its merits and the future of European rugby?
The request gives the Six Nations choice to determine the nature of an integrated competition, either expand or promotion/relegation or a mixture? Regardless of the outcome, Europe must keep hammering and hope to chip away at the conservative defences.
Meanwhile, this year’s Rugby European Championship – part of the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifying process – has been one of the closest in recent times.
The final game was a ‘winner take all’ situation, Romania surprising Georgia with a well-deserved 8-7 victory in front of 5500 home fans.
The Oaks regained the Antim Cup, for games between the two nations. Both teams had 19 points on the table but the winner goes to whichever team wins the head-to-head. Georgia had a better for and against and this confused officials, who presented the cup to Georgia at the ground, but later that evening Georgia handed it over to Romania. Sounded a bit like the Oscars.
Georgia, despite this loss, goes from strength to strength and rugby has replaced football as the national game. Huge crowds attend when internationals are played in the capital, Tbilisi. Whether the Lelos could beat, say Italy, remains to be seen as these two sides have been kept well apart – the last international between the two was in 2003, won by Italy. Clashes after this date have been ‘A’ or ’emerging’ sides, with the honours shared.
Overall, both Georgia and Romania are streets ahead of the other four nations in terms of playing standard and infrastructure.
Portugal was relegated last year and replaced by Belgium, which has been in the top division before but is in the revolving door of the competition, set to go down again after losing all their games. However they were competitive, going down 6-31 to Georgia, 18-25 to Russia, 29-34 to Germany and 17-33 to Romania, but suffered a bad final-round loss 0-30 to Spain.
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Germany, usually also part of the revolving door, maintained its spot at Portugal’s expense. The team attracted home crowds of 8000 and in the opening match beat Romania, 41-38, with each side scoring five tries. This was the first time that a united German team had beaten Romania since 1938.
A second round 50-6 drubbing at the hands of Georgia brought the Germans back to Earth. The home game against Spain was crucial for Rugby World Cup qualifications, and Spain had a 32-15 win, scoring four tries to two.
Georgia has already qualified for the World Cup, to be held in Japan, and look likely to be joined by Romania, with Spain to contest the repecharges.
The great enigma is Russia. It has so much potential but can’t produce the goods. Playing home games in Sochi, near the Georgian border, is nowhere near its rugby heartland and must be one of the reasons.
Russia lost to Spain, 16-6, in the opening round, beat Belgium, then lost 30-10 to Romania. In front of 55,000 people in Tbilisi, Russia gave its best performance of the season before going down to Georgia, four ties to two, in a 28-14 scoreline.
In the final round, against Germany, Russia gave another good display but led by only led 26-20 at the 60-minute mark. Germany then tired badly in the last quarter as Russia ran in four tries in this last 20 minutes for an eight-try-to-three victory of 52-25.
The final 2017 European Championship ladder is:
The reverse round will be played in 2018.