South Africa, More Teams Or Relegation? How To Improve The Six Nations

Talk of a revamp has come to the fore this week
07:15, 28 Feb 2022

It’s been quite the week for the international rugby community. France continued their march to the Six Nations title with a win over Scotland, but the long-term future of the competition was also up for discussion after the rumours that South Africa could join after 2025 were refuted by organisers.

“Six Nations Rugby, comprising the six unions and federations and CVC, wish to confirm that they are not entertaining any discussion nor developing any plans to add or replace any participating union,” they said in a statement.

“All its energy is focused on the current strategic discussions regarding the July and November international windows and structure of the global season, and to ensure a positive outcome for the development of the game.”

It’s now been 22 years since Italy joined the established Five Nations championships to create what we now know and love as the Six Nations. The annual competition sets out to find the best team in Europe, but almost a quarter of a century on, the format has come under criticism and discussions to revamp the competition have drawn intrigue. 

South Africa had told the southern hemisphere’s governing body Sanzaar that they were exploring the option of joining the Six Nations in the near future - but this possibility has now been extinguished  by the organisers, who it seems are not keen on expansion. However, the Springboks lie in a difficult position in the world of rugby. 

Although they sit well within the Southern hemisphere, time zones suggest they would be better suited to competing with European teams in order to raise the audience viewing figures. South Africa is GMT +2, while Australia and New Zealand sit at GMT +8 to +12, so you can see why that idea was initially explored. 

However, pundits and critics have pointed to the Six Nations being comparable to the European Championships in football. This is to crown the best team in Europe, not a worldwide competition - however this also raises questions. Why is it a closed shop, and surely to raise the quality of the sport across the continent, more teams need to be included?

One suggestion to solve this issue, and give the format a shake-up, is to introduce a relegation play-off as such. The highest ranked team outside of these six nations in Europe, should get the chance to play the team that finishes bottom of the Six Nations for their place in next year’s competition. 

For example, using last year’s table, Italy would have played Georgia for a spot in the 2022 championships. Now, this should be weighted in the established team’s favour - for example a one-legged match in Rome could be used as the play-off, and if Georgia can win on away soil, then they have earned their place. 

Eventually, we could see a ‘second Six Nations’ - an entire division of nations battling for a place in the original Six Nations. This would, much as the Nations League format has done in football, raise the quality of these other nations in Europe and allow them to play regular competitive matches against nations of a similar quality. 

It would also give the six elite nations something to avoid. Nobody wants to be relegated, but there should be some level of punishment to consistently finishing bottom of the table. If we eventually ended up with three of the ‘original’ nations in the Six Nations due to relegation - so be it. The others will have rightly earned their place at the top table. 

It’s time to open up this closed shop and add some real excitement to the bottom of the table.

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