Why There Should be Promotion/Relegation in the 6nations

Following the Ireland Vs Scotland fixture in Round 1, three respected rugby pundits (John Inverdale, Keith Wood, and Andy Nicol) discussed the idea of promotion/relegation in the 6nations live on BBC. The proposal would mean the wooden spoon receivers in the 6nations would be relegated to Europe’s 2nd division, whilst a second-tier Europeon nation (such as Georgia) would be rewarded with a spot in the following year’s 6 nations. To my absolute bemusement, the consensus of these experts was that this proposal had no place in today’s rugby world. Never, in my years as a rugby fan, have I felt a group of rugby legends could be so wrong.

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Most fans, including these pundits, will know that this proposal could bring many benefits. It would bring flocks of new fans to the game (as sports fans in nations like Spain, Romania, Russia and so on wont feel excluded); it would mean a far more competitive world cup (as nations are exposed to more top level competition); and it means the 6nations will have more variety. Also, is it not in the spirit of rugby to give all European countries a fair crack? We like to have pride in the spirit of rugby, yet we don’t even give some nations a chance, which is yet another pro for the promotion/relegation idea. Inverdale, Wood, and Nicol (as well as other cynics to promotion/relegation in 6nations) probably understood all these benefits, but believed there were too many flaws in the idea for it to work. Below, there are quotes in bold which attempt to trample on a promotion/relegation proposal. I aim to show why all their arguments should not scare us away from promotion/relegation in the 6 nations.

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“I don’t think they’re there yet”- Nicol

Nicol argued that the developing nations are not ready for top European competition, and therefore wouldn’t improve the 6nations brand like Italy did. That statement is such an ill thought out insult to Georgia. Georgia not only have a wealth of players in the French Top 14 (including Mamuka Gorgodze, arguably one of the top flankers in the world), but have results to prove they could make the likes of Scotland and Italy quiver. Georgia slayed Samoa in November, something which Wales, Italy, and Scotland all failed to do in their most recent attempts. They have also frightened 6nations teams in their most recent fixtures against them, including tight losses to Ireland (10-14), England (10-41), and Scotland (6-15).

2014 RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship Launch 22/1/2014

But it shouldn’t even matter whether they are good enough right now, for two reasons. Firstly, if they are not good enough, surely that is an argument for promotion/relegation, as this exposure to the top teams is the only way to improve them.

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Secondly, you could have a playoff to determine the promotion/relegation, meaning no teams will be in the 6nations if they are not ready. To expand on this, the team who finish bottom of the 6nations (France, if we use last year’s results) would play the team who finish top of the Euro-Nations Cup (Georgia, to use the most recent winners) at home. If France won, then they would survive in the 6 nations, but if Georgia won, then France are relegated to pave way for Georgia’s promotion. This fixture would not only generate buzzing excitement, but also mean the developing teams get annual clashes with the big guns before they are ready to enter the 6nations.

“If France were relegated…how does the competition function?”- Wood

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Inverdale reminded Wood and Nicol that if promotion/relegation would have been in place last season, then France could have been relegated. In response, Wood doubted the competition could cope in various ways (such as economically) if one of the big teams such as France were relegated. This seems short-sighted. Whilst one market may decline through a country such as France getting relegated, other markets would emerge to replace them. There is no doubt that in any sport tournament with relegation, the team who goes down has a declining popularity, and the team who goes up has an upsurge in popularity. True, a major asset of the tournament such as France getting relegated would mean in the short run, the tournament would not succeed as well economically. However, surely we have to look at the bigger picture. A team getting relegated will lead them to have a declining interest, but that is better than most of Europe having no serious interest at all. It’s like an investment, as in the long run, more countries having a chance of top level competition will make rugby be even more of a flourishing international sport than it is today.

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“There is no sense of responsibility from the top nations… to develop the second tier.”- Inverdale

Okay, so this isn’t an argument against promotion/relegation, but still an important point that was raised in the discussion. Inverdale stated the truth that the top tier nations will rarely want to organise tests against developing nations, as it won’t collect them as much money as a test against fellow top tier nations will. As a result, developing nations struggle to gain fixtures against the best. It is a crucial point, and yet again shows why promotion/relegation for the 6nations is vital for the game to grow. It’s not in the interests of the rugby powerhouses to play the developing nations in friendlies, so the only way for them to ever improve is if the IRB forces it through promotion/relegation in these tournaments.

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I see this ground-breaking idea of promotion/relegation as a must if the game is ever going to grow seriously. I didn’t want to write a 10 page article, so sadly could not go into every possible criticism of this proposal. However, I do believe this proposal does not have any serious flaws, so if any InTheLoose readers wish to challenge me on why this would not work, I would be more than happy to do a follow-up article.

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5 comments

  1. I was thinking about this a couple of years back, not in as much detail as you, I’m glad someone else thinks that this could work!

  2. I think that you’re missunderstanding the purpose of the Six Nations. It is not a meritocratic competition run by the IRB for the good of the game. It is an invitational tournament run by the participants for the benefit of the participants. It is a private members club that provides essential economic income to the governing bodies of those countries who participate. It is likely that professional rugby in Scotland (for example) would cease to exist without Six Nations funding. Simply put, the Six Nations has no duty to develop the game in Georgia, Russia, or anywhere else and it certainly shouldn’t be expected to put its own participants at risk to do so. We might not like this, but that’s the cold reality.

    The responsibility for developing the global game belongs to the IRB. They do this every four years through the World Cup and annually in Europe through FIRA who run the European Nations Cup which provides regular international competition for Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Russia etc. There is no relationship between the Six Nations and European Nations Cup. They are not part of a pyramid structure; they are separate competitions which are run by separate commercial bodies with different goals. Does this allow the better countries in the European Nations Cup to maximise their development? Probably not but responsibility for this belongs to the IRB not the Six Nations.

    From the perspective of the Six Nations countries, their tournament is working extremely well and doesn’t need changing.The politics involved in joining the tournaments means that it would be extremely unlikely to happen. I can’t see any circumstance in which the Six Nations would agree to loss of governance or finance. The Six Nations might possibly be receptive to expansion but even then the incoming team would need to convince the Six Nations of their worth both on and off the field.

    • I think your last point was seen as irrelevant by France and Italy before they joined the Home Nations and later 5 Nations

      • Tim,

        Surely you’re not arguing that France’s admission to an amateur competition over 100 years ago has any bearing on Georgia’s admission now? France joined the tournament in 1910 when the world was very different. Of course the conditions imposed by the professional modern game were irrelevant to them!

        Italy joined in 2000 after repeatedly proving themselves against the other Five Nations teams. In the five years before their admission Italy beat Ireland (1995, twice in 1997) France (1997) and Scotland (1998). None of the ENC teams are anywhere near that standard. For example, Georgia has played and lost against both Scotland and England in the last five years. They’ve also lost to Italy ‘A’ twice, Ireland ‘A’ and the likes of Spain and Namibia during the same period.

        When Italy were allowed to join, the tournament moved from five teams to six teams and did not need to add an extra weekend. It would now. That would mean changing the international calendar and disrupting the domestic tournaments. It would also mean that the unions would have to negotiate additional player release from clubs which would cost extra money. Broadcasters, sponsors and fans would have to be confident that the new match would be worth paying for. The benefits of the new team would have to outweigh these factors and the new team would have to prove that it has a sustainable business model that not only ensures the future success of its side but also brings money into the competition. And this is just scratching the surface.

        You clearly see things differently. Happy to hear your point of view.

        • I agree, it’s a shame there isn’t more international competition for lower tier nations, in Europe, Asia and Africa. But it’s not the responsibility, economic interests, or sporting interests of the six nations to develop these teams.

          I personally believe that the IRB and us as global rugby fans should express some more interest in these teams for the sake of the game as a whole.

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