The second round of the 2021 Six Nations was concluded last weekend, and provided rugby fans across Europe, with an exciting instalment of action.
For most rugby fans, the national rugby teams of Europe stretch no further than the boot of Italy’s heel, with the old playground rhyme of “England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales (and France… and Italy),” neatly wrapping up the six sides.
However, international rugby in Europe has grown further than the iconic hexad, with nations such as Georgia, facing a glass ceiling in the Rugby Europe Championship.
A 29-match losing streak in the Six Nations, sees Italy cautiously trying to not shatter that ceiling, and fall into an unknown ‘second division’, which has unlimited potential.
I believe that for the benefit of rugby development throughout Europe, it is time to update the old Six Nations format, with a newly branded, televised, and publicised ‘Six Nations Premiership’ and ‘Six Nations Championship’, with promotion and relegation each season.
Simply put, it is time for Georgia to join the Six Nations, but it is not time for a ‘Seven Nations’ competition. Georgia have a rightful claim, after climbing to 12th in the official World Rugby rankings, with Italy sliding down to 14th.
Georgia need a bigger challenge than to dominate the Rugby Europe Championship. Their victorious 2020 campaign was their twelfth title since the competition’s infancy in 2000.
Italy need to develop a winning mentality in the Championship. They will generate interest from fans, and could come back far stronger the following season.
A ‘Seven Nations’ competition would be a detriment from a business perspective. The Premiership, Pro 14 and Top 14 clubs who pay the international star’s salaries, would disapprove the idea to lose their top players for another weekend or two to training camps.
It also begs the idea of where do you stop? Say if Romania, (who are second in Championship titles, with five), begin to dominate the second division, are they then added to the Eight Nations?
A promotion and relegation system is simply more feasible.
The benefits of televising the ‘Six Nations Championship’ matches would be insurmountable. The increased TV and sponsorship revenue to the Tier 2 nations, would improve their performances, due to the mutually beneficial ‘Golden Triangle of Sport’.
Furthermore, the televised matches can give tier 2 stars more exposure for professional club contracts. Georgia’s Giorgi Kveseladze exemplifies this, as Gloucester signed the centre after impressive displays in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.
Italy would vote against the decision to drop-out of the Six Nations, but to win the wooden spoon without consequence every year, does not benefit Italian rugby.
I believe that the governing bodies of the championship nations would vote in favour of a potential promotion. And that the proud Home Nations would relish in increased competitiveness in the competition, as would a French team, which is playing like a potential winner of the next World Cup.
And to avoid the ‘yo-yo’ affect, of Italy and Georgia swapping each year, this format should run at U20s level first, for five years, before becoming an international mainstay.
The next generation of ‘Tier 2’ rugby players will gain valuable experience of playing against ‘Tier 1’ sides, and will greatly benefit nations such as Georgia, in cementing their place in the ‘Six Nations Premiership’.