As the NatWest Six Nations gets underway, so too does the discussion of who will be taking home the silverware at the end of the tournament.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland entered the competition as odds-on favourites against Eddie Jones’ England. No doubt that the winner will be decided when these two giants of world rugby face-off in the final match of the tournament. With the home advantage, Irish fans will be hoping for another reason to celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day.
The tournament itself got off to a dramatic start. Despite Scotland’s impressive performance in last year’s Autumn Internationals, their shock thrashing from Wales left them retreating from Cardiff with their tail between their legs. France broke defensive records during their defeat against Ireland. Putting in 253 tackles, in what was an intensely close game, Les Bleus were left heartbroken as they watched Sexton’s drop goal attempt fly between the posts to secure the win at the Stade de France. Perennial wooden spoon ‘winners’ Italy were unsurprisingly overwhelmed in Rome by what continues to be the strongest England squad since 2003.
The competition has been criticised for becoming too predictable
The competition has been criticised in recent years for becoming too predictable. With Italy and Scotland often comprising the bottom two nations year after year, there have been calls for a relegation system to be introduced. Following their notable performances in 2015’s Rugby World Cup, Romania and Georgia are the two countries which could be set to replace those who would fall foul of the proposed system. This would, however, harm the game within the relegated nations, especially within Italy where it is already under heavy scrutiny due to their consistently poor performances within major competitions.
Another proposal has been to add nations rather than replace them. The tournament has a long history of adding nations; France joined the home nations in 1910 to create the Five Nations, with Italy joining in 2000 to create the competition we know today. Georgia, who currently sit above Italy in the World Rugby Rankings, would be front of the queue to join the tournament. Eddie Jones even enlisted their help to test England’s scrummaging set pieces over the Six Nations rest week. Fast becoming the nation’s most popular sport, their constant impressive performances on the world stage have made the case for Georgia’s ascension into the upper echelons of rugby union.
Regardless of the outcome, change for the Six Nations is long overdue. The competition has become too Anglo-centric, adding a more diverse set of nations will help shift world rugby’s gaze away from the British Isles and onto other countries who have also worked hard to earn their place in the Sun. Besides, adding more nations can only mean more rugby, and what true fan wouldn’t want that?