Niamh McKeown examines whether it's time for the Six Nations to expand and let more tier two countries compete.
One of the biggest questions of debate in the rugby world as of late is whether it’s time for the 6 Nations to expand. As we all know, the 6 Nations currently consists of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy, who are some of the highest ranking teams in World Rugby. However, after the Rugby World Cup in 2015, Europe’s tier two countries called for the Six Nations to be expanded to seven or eight teams, meaning countries like Georgia and Romania would join the battle for the Grand Slam.
Arguments from both sides have risen with many people claiming that they're not ready to play with the ‘elite’ yet, despite their impressive performance at the World Cup. Players like Giorgi Begadz and Davit Kacharava, who have won 6 European Nations titles, are eager to expand their competition. There are of course positives and negatives to go along with this decision.
Opening the cup up to more countries would create more competition for the current teams. At the moment, the Six Nations teams have played against each other so often that they are overdue some new competition. Some argue that the November series produces this competition, but there’s no silverware at the end of these challenges.
It would also open up the development for tier two countries therefore leading to better World Cup matches. Each year the same teams are predicted to win the silverware, until of course tier two teams like Japan come along and upset the bets. The goal of world rugby is to expand its popularity, however this won't be possible until the tier two countries are recognised globally.
Many believe once you let one country into the competition, it’ll lead to a wider expansion and lower the skills and standard of the game. Would tier two countries develop fast enough to create a rivalry for the existing teams in the Six Nations?
Countries like Georgia and Romania showed up at the World Cup causing upsets for teams who had hoped to move through their pool at ease. In terms of Georgia who have won the past 6 European Nations Cups they are fired up for some fresh competition, but will they show up for the 6 (or 8) Nations? After 15 years in the 6 Nations, Italy have failed to develop into a team capable of winning the competition, and year after year they get the wooden spoon.
More test matches create more pressure on the players to perform at a high level for a longer time. This of course leads to the increased possibility of injury. Demands to become faster, stronger, and tougher put strain on a players body. With the added issues revolving around the failure to properly deal with concussions, do we really want to increase the pressure by adding more competition?
DEVELOPING THE UNDERDOG
Would bringing the tier two countries in on a trial basis mess up/ effect the statistics of world rugby rankings, resulting in teams jumping around the table? Or is that what it’s all about? Letting teams develop and move around the table pushing the elite teams off the top. But the question remains, do the world rankings truly reflect the ability of the team? This year's Six Nations saw Scotland, a team standing eighth in world rankings beat Ireland in their first match, who currently sit at fourth in world rankings and a team who beat the All Blacks only months previously.
Is there one more seat at the table? What’s next for the 6 Nations?