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.
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.
“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).
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.