In the aftermath of the most dramatic finish to a Six Nations championship ever seen, much of the praise for Saturday’s feast for the senses was the dizzying number of tries scored. Wales put eight past the Italians after kicking into fifth gear in the second half whilst in Twickenham, England and France scored 12 between them.
Ireland, in contrast, could only manage what was a paltry four given the day’s excesses. 81 points scored between Italy and Wales, 90 between England and France; it was truly a delight to witness after what was admittedly a dour previous four rounds.
Some pundits have proposed the introduction of the bonus points system as a means of encouraging the same level of try-scoring and helter-skelter running rugby in future editions of the tournament. In the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship, the system has been in place since the competition's inception as the Tri Nations in 1996.
Advocates of the system claim it has fostered the running game both New Zealand and Australia are renowned for whilst discouraging the ‘negative’ dependency on kicking associated with the game in the north.
There may be some credence to this view but seeing as there are two fewer teams in the Rugby Championship and each side plays six games in total there is less chance of bonus points presenting a potential contradiction to the standings.
The current bonus points system at play in the Rugby Championship is as follows:
4 points for a win
2 for a draw
1 bonus point for scoring 4 or more tries
1 bonus point for losing by 7 points or fewer
If the system had been implemented since 2000, upon the entry of Italy into the Six Nations, while most championships would have panned out as they actually did, a few would have turned out differently, although in most instances they would have been positional changes in the middle or bottom of the table.
For example, in 2000 England would have still won the championship (W4 L1), 5 points ahead of France in second place. Scotland (-50 points difference) however, who actually finished fourth, would have finished bottom on 4 points, below an Italian side who, despite a -122 points difference, won one which would have been supplemented by a losing bonus point.
The foot-and-mouth disease delayed championship of 2001, would have seen no significant changes although, had Ireland beaten Scotland in Murrayfield and received 4 points, despite winning a Grand Slam, they would have finished in second place behind England, owing to their 5 bonus points and a staggering +149 points difference.
However, Ireland lost a game so this embarrassing possibility surely would never have happened, right?
Wrong. If bonus points had been in place for the 2002 championship the most peculiar of outcomes would have occurred.
France won all five of their games, with a healthy points difference of +81. That said they only managed to secure one bonus point.
England, despite losing to France, received a losing bonus point against the French on top of their other four, meaning with a points difference of +131, the championship would have went to England even though Bernard Laporte's men won a Grand Slam.
Thankfully such a humiliating situation would never have ensued because rugby isn’t run by FIFA. The potential for such a blip would have only happened on that one occasion, not a bad return from 16 editions of the tournament.
2003-2006 all would have remained unchanged at the top but the 2007 tournament, when Ireland were left to rue the concession of a late Italian try which saw France win the championship with a +4 points difference, would have gone our way. Ireland’s 3 bonus points would have put them on 19 points, one ahead of France, who could only manage two.
All editions from 2008 through to 2012 remain the same. The 2013 competition would have seen the most changes under a bonus points system.
Despite a greater points difference, a bonus pointless Wales would have finished second behind England. Ireland who recorded their worst ever finish in a Six Nations, would have risen from fifth to joint third.
And as for this year’s championship, we still would have had the same exciting conclusion, with England, Ireland and Wales all tied on 13 points before Saturday’s spectacular denouement.
Of course we would all love to see the same quantity of free-running, high-scoring rugby every year in the Six Nations but implementing bonus points will not bring about a sweeping change.
It is only by seeing what they were capable of producing at the weekend that the northern hemisphere’s elite sides will realise that attacking, often hazardous rugby, can actually yield results as well as providing entertainment.
If England, Ireland and Wales could play in the manner in which they did on Saturday they are more than capable of causing the ‘big three’ huge problems in October.