So the Six Nations draws to its close, as did the European Nations’ Cup. Georgia won their ninth title in 10 years by beating their similarly unbeaten rivals Romania.
Meanwhile Italy headed to Cardiff for another heavy beating at the hands of Wales. Would Italy definitely beat the Georgians in a notional promotion/relegation play-off?
A week earlier Ireland ran in nine tries against the Italians. So once more their protected Six Nations status is up for review. But should the question really be about Italy, who have provided some magical moments over the last 17 years (and Rome remains a wonderful place to visit) and deserve their chance to shine on European rugby’s biggest stage. But then Georgia and Romania would love the opportunity to show what they can do against rugby’s big boys on a regular basis.
We saw with Argentina’s World Cup campaign last autumn that there is no substitute for regular exposure to the bigger teams, which they have gained from playing in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.
If the powers that be are serious about growing the world game, the Six Nations’ cosy self-appointed club must be overhauled.Conor O’Shea may well come in and oversee a swift turnaround in Italy’s fortunes. But that should not change the fact that the current state of affairs is unfair. Far better a two-group system featuring promotion and relegation, which does not just protect the interests of the current six. The Six nations’ closed-shop stance simply cannot last indefinitely.
The Six Nations committee evidently sees its responsibilities as the promoters of an event rather than the game, commerce as a priority above long-term development of European rugby, and while that remains the case England, Jones and everyone else are operating within the restrictions that it applies.
If the Six nations took a broader view it might start with bonus points, then tackle Italy-Georgia, promotion, relegation and the championship format, and then ask: how else can the game be improved?