Six Nations – but for how long?

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    There has been much talk and jostling about the status of the club championships in Europe. The way I read it, France and England are not overly content with teams from Italy and Scotland qualifying so easily for the Heineken Cup.

    This debate made me think more broadly about the national competition equivalent starting next week – the Six Nations.

    The original Home Championship started in 1883 and is obviously steeped in tradition, but in this age of professionalism, are we coming close to a point where the Six Nations begins to take on a promotion relegation system?

    The European Nations Cup is starting to take the shape of a tough competition in its own right and has much more potential in terms of audience growth given that there are so many European nations involved.

    I see here a conflict between two entities that one could sometimes mistake for being one in the same, the IRB and Six Nations Rugby Ltd.

    Surely it is in the IRB’s interest if not being the number one goal to expand and grow the game internationally.

    Is a closed and elite competition like the 6N working directly against this objective? How is a team like Georgia who have won five of the past ENC tournaments going to get to the next level without being able to play against 6N sides on a regular basis?

    The introduction of Italy has only been a good thing for rugby there, despite little on-field success, but surely a seven nations comp is one team too far. So, is relegation/promotion an option?

    England a have played Scotland on an annual basis (except world war years) for the Calcutta Cup, which I believe to be the oldest piece of silverware in the international game.

    It would be unspeakable for both the English and the Scots to imagine a year without a game because one of the teams was relegated to the ENC.

    However, eventually the IRB will have to allow a system to allow third tier teams to flourish. Is the onus on the lesser ENC teams to raise the bar themselves or will we one day see a 6N competition that doesn’t involve the current teams?

    Maybe there will come a day where the winner of the 6N plays the winner of the ENC for “European bragging rights”.

    Of course I’m talking about at least 30 years down the track but it is probably better that the IRB considers todays minnows sooner rather than later.

    There are many paths that the IRB can take to nurture world rugby via both club, provincial and national systems but one thing it can’t do is neglect the minnows of the sport by excluding them from high level competition.

    The Rugby World Cup is a great advertisement for the game but it can’t be he sole access for smaller nations to show their abilities.

    I’m hoping there will be 24 teams in the Rugby World Cup finals in Japan for example but things need to be done between world cups to reinforce and further the popularity of the sport.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • Roar Guru

      January 27th 2014 @ 6:54am
      Eddard said | January 27th 2014 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      I’d love to see a European Cup in place of the 6 nations every 4 years between world cups ala soccer.

      I don’t think a promotion / relegation system is the answer for the 6 nations – the existing countries would fight against it tooth and nail.

      The likes of Georgia and Romania don’t get a look in because their markets aren’t attractive enough to the existing 6. I’d say if it was Spain or Russia that was knocking on the door that they’d be much more likely to be included. I think the other nations, for now, need to focus on building up the European Nations Cup as a top level competition in its own right.

    • January 27th 2014 @ 8:31am
      Gurudoright said | January 27th 2014 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      Unfortunately the 6 Nations will be a closed shop until the likes of Georgia, Russia, Romania & Spain are beating Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales & France frequently and not as a one off. The gap between England and Spain would see 100 point margin games and that isn’t attractive to anyone

      • January 29th 2014 @ 4:45am
        Sircoolalot said | January 29th 2014 @ 4:45am | ! Report

        How are they supposed to do that when they never get the chance

    • Roar Guru

      January 27th 2014 @ 9:05am
      sheek said | January 27th 2014 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      There have been many alternate suggestions put forward, each requiring deep & thoughtful consideration, that considers history, tradition, development & progress, & not just bucks.

      One suggestion is to have 10-12 nations split into two pools of five or six, with the pool winners facing off in a final. you could also have semi-finals.

      For argument sake, England, Scotland & Wales might be joined by say Spain & Portugal in one pool, while France, Italy & Ireland might be joined by Romania & Georgia in another pool.

      The top two from each pool play off in the semi-finals, with the winners meeting each other in the final.

      Whatever expansion is eventually agreed to, it should be for overall ‘holistic” reasons & not just chasing the money.

      • Roar Guru

        January 27th 2014 @ 10:32am
        Shop said | January 27th 2014 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        To be honest Sheek, I put the article together on a whim as you suggest. The main point I was trying to get accross was that the IRB needs to be proactive in the area of promoting the minnows and set ups like the 6N are not exactly good models. I suppose it was just of a really long question…

        • January 27th 2014 @ 11:31am
          Tane Mahuta said | January 27th 2014 @ 11:31am | ! Report

          Why stop at the 6 nats? Why not the RC, why doesnt the RC include Samoa and Fiji. What about the pacific nats cup, why dont they include the Solomon Islands.

          You could say it of any championship or cup.

          Qualification is the only answer and that isnt going to happen on a yearly basis. So you would have to have it every few years and I for 1 dont want that. I want to see the 6 nats every year.

          The six nats is played outside the test windows, so we are fortunate to have it at all.

          As far as teams like Canada, Japan and Georgia are concerned, there is the 2 test windows to organise games against each other and those like Fiji, Tonga, Italy, Scot and Arg. When they are competitive against the next level then they will get those games against higher comp.

          • Roar Guru

            January 27th 2014 @ 1:57pm
            Shop said | January 27th 2014 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

            Tane, I actually had a paragraph that mentioned the RC but (stupidly) deleted it because I didn’t want to get too off track. The point you make about qualifiction is exactly my point. What happens when Georgia, Romania, Fiji, Samoa ect. become viable options for the likes of RC and 6N? Will there be a shift from tradition? Argentina fought hard for entry into the RC however there if rugby expands in the decades to come, when do rivalries like the Calcutta Cup come under threat because of the global strength of rugby?

            • January 27th 2014 @ 2:49pm
              Tane Mahuta said | January 27th 2014 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

              They can play in a mini tourney like Samoa, Italy and Samoa did in SA. They can tour Euorope and North America on the EOYT.

              Personally Im for these teams earning it rather than being handed it.

              I dont think Italy in the 6 nats or Arg in the RC has been a success. To me it clearly demonstrates that a team playing against higher comp does not result in making either team better. Imo it has exposed that it as a myth.

              International teams become better through their individual players improving and being good enough to play in good club comps and not by being put (artificialy) in strong international comps. I dont think it has ever been the case that an international team has improved due to its opposition at international level.

              • January 27th 2014 @ 3:52pm
                Tane Mahuta said | January 27th 2014 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

                In slightly related news.

                -Botha broke his arm against Brive.

                -Yarde and the Chiefs Tikoirotuma are said to have signed with Quins for next season.

                -Tales out of six nats.

                -Irish Wolfhounds down England Saxons.

                -Sheehan to sign with London Irish.

                -Tuilagi (Manu) aiming for mid Feb return, could feature late in 6 nats.

    • January 27th 2014 @ 9:37am
      Martyn Winters said | January 27th 2014 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      This has been mooted before and I remain to be convinced that there is any benefit to either group with the 6N teams piling up points against minor nations in a meaningless “competition” that isn’t actually competitive. If your objective is to develop minor nations then space must be found in the calendar for them to play development sides on a regular basis. My solution to this is drop the South Sea Islanders from the Autumn Internationals and give their places to European minor countries. Then get the SH teams to put the South Sea Islanders on the calendar with a regular fixture against development sides. Everyone wins – the Islanders get regular games against sides that are arguably not much weaker than the 6N sides, and the Euro-minnows get game time against teams they can aspire to be competitive against, while the SH Rugby Championship and 6N sides get quality development matches. Changing a winning format to spread the game is self defeating. The 6N is the most successful tournament outside the RWC in terms of audience and you don’t fix what ain’t broke.

    • January 27th 2014 @ 9:38am
      Deez said | January 27th 2014 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      Sheek- I agree w you. I think any advance has to look beyond just the short term financial potential and the idea of a pooled comp could help bridge that gap. It also keeps things interesting for 3rd tier nations – inevitably they will lose the first few games vs the top tier, but joining together with some other 3rd tiers gives then some competitive games at the same time. Just need to avoid what happened with Italy (and possibly Argentina where they lose all games for the first few seasons and risk having crowds lose interest).

    • January 27th 2014 @ 9:45am
      Rob9 said | January 27th 2014 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      Like some have and will suggest, I’d like to see the 6N become a biannual event leaving the RWC year free and the year in between RWC’s free to run a hemisphere cup. A 16 team tournament with 4 pools of 4 would allow those outside the 6N (including the likes of Canada, the US and Japan) the opportunity to come into the spotlight more often than every 4 years. I’d also like to see us do the same down here with an 8 team, 2 pools of 4 tournament to get the PI’s more involved in top tier rugby.

      As for restructuring the 6N to broaden the opportunities for involvement, the promo/relegation idea isn’t a bad one. I think when countries like Georgia, Russia, Spain and Portugal are right up there with Europe’s big 6, top tier rugby on that continent could become regions based. There could be a home nations group, a Western European group involving France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, an Eastern European group involving Russia, Georgia, Romania and the Ukraine and a Central European group including Germany, Holland, Belgium and whoever else is strong in that area. It would also allow teams to play home and away.

      I still think we’re a fair way off from reaching a point where this sort of structure would be appropriate but it’s interesting to wonder what top tier rugby will be like when the number of competitive nations is expanded. However, the Hemisphere Cup idea is something the IRB could and should be looking at in the short term.

      • Roar Guru

        January 27th 2014 @ 10:10am
        Eddard said | January 27th 2014 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        I think a European Cup would be better than a hemispheres cup. In time there would be enough for a good 16 team competition. They could already do 12.

        Include the other continents with the southern hemisphere nations in an intercontinental cup. That way you could have the same number of teams in both.

      • January 27th 2014 @ 11:47am
        Frank Spinetti said | January 27th 2014 @ 11:47am | ! Report

        Biannual means twice a year..

        n’est-ce pas ????

        Franks Spinetti

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