We are only in the first round of this years instalment of the Six Nations, so perhaps this is premature. However, following the first round of the Championship, I want change. I want it to become a more exciting tournament on the whole.
The Pumas (Argentina)have found success following constant exposure to the best the south has to offer, no doubt. They came 4th at the global showcase that was England 2015. Their inclusion in the Rugby Championship is a perfect model of how the power houses of World Rugby can help global development of our sport and is a testament to all involved in the competition. Argentina are in turn playing their part, this year participating in the America’s cup against emerging nations Canada, USA, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to finally give Georgia and Romania a chance?
If there should be one common goal of every rugby team, league and nation in the world, it should be to expand our sport. How can we do that if we neglect the most promising newcomers? When the Six Nations seems so stubborn to accept these new sides, it begs the question of whether they share this common goal or if they’d rather just sit on the money the Six Nations brings and leave it at that.
I feel that beyond the benefits to the up and coming countries, fresh competition might push existing sides to perform. As it stands, you can expect England, Wales and Ireland to make up the top three, France could go either way and generally Italy and Scotland to battle it out for the glorious wooden spoon. Is it really that exciting for us the spectators?
The addition of new sides would certainly be seen as a threat to the likes of Italy, Scotland and potentially even France. For England, Ireland and Wales it may be seen more as an opportunity to up their points difference in the first few years of their inclusion at least. However, this would all encourage a more expansive style of play and a bit of variation in the make up of the table after the final whistle has blown. It would also boost interest and investment in these countries, making Japan 2019 an even more exciting prospect as these ‘Tier Two’ nations develop further.
Recently the Georgian Rugby Union published a cartoon, depicting aspiring European nations attempting to break into the fortress of The Six Nations. With Rugby now the largest sport in Georgia and with automatic qualification to Japan 2019, they have every right to want access to top tier games and this is the perfect time for it. The obvious example is, as previously mentioned, how regular, top tier games has rocketed Argentinian rugby past many well developed rugby nations to the top. Argentina are only getting their first professional side in one of the larger leagues this year, Los Jaguares in Super Rugby and have potential to grow even further.
Of course, Georgia aren’t alone in this desire and for more, high quality games. Romania also merit their demand for top tier rugby, with the sport growing well again after the initial set back of the sport going professional. Before professionalism, they had claimed scalps of top sides such as France, Scotland and Fiji and I for one would love to see them get back to that kind of level.
Unfortunately, at the moment the Six Nations seem closed. Ireland have played Georgia recently and Scotland are due to in the Autumn internationals, which would be an interesting indication of how they might get on if they played in the Championship, but that’s as far as they’ve got. John Feehan, Chief executive of The Six Nations said “It’s not our job to provide solutions for Georgia, Romania or anyone else”, which pretty much answers the current attitude. Unsurprisingly then, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll see a bonus point system or anything else to try and encourage a more exciting style of play, either.
You can of course look at Italy, who have two professional club sides and have been involved in the competition since 2000. Many would argue that they haven’t developed all that much. That could well be to do with internal politics and funding, but who are we to say Georgia and Romania can’t one day emulate the Pumas? The inclusion of these two sides will only help grow the sport we love and make our beloved Six Nations all the more exciting.
The final team to mention is Russia. Bought to my attention by the fantastic ‘Pen’ from Glasgow Warriors (take a look at his twitter), they have made in roads of late, most notably when their European Challenge Cup side Enisei-STM won against both Brive from the Top 14 and Newcastle Falcons of the Aviva Premiership. They are one to keep an eye on for the future.
In conclusion, I’m not sure at this time if I’m suggesting a relegation system or an expansion of the existing competition as both have a number of pros and cons. What I am certain of, is that international rugby in Europe could do with a change to make it more exciting and this could achieve just that. I know it’s highly controversial and I’ve only just started to open up to the idea myself, but I think this is the perfect time.
To give you an idea of their potential, take a look at this video of Georgia against Tonga.
Highlights from Italy Vs Romania show the potential of the Romanians (Watch all the way through!)
As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts. You can comment, tweet me directly at the link below, or get involved using the hash tag #SixNationsExpansion
The Scribbler, 10th January 2016