Seven Nations? Would expansion really spell disaster?

Seven Nations? Would expansion really spell disaster? “It [the Six […]

Seven Nations? Would expansion really spell disaster?

“It [the Six Nations] is called the greatest rugby tournament in the world and I think it is. So why would you want to add other teams that are going to decrease the level of competition”.
Those were the words of England head coach Eddie Jones, in the aftermath of England’s 13-6 win at Murrayfield at the weekend. He was of course referring to the speculation that the yearly tournament contested by teams in the northern hemisphere could be expanded – namely after the 2023 World Cup in France.
Talk of changing the face of Test Rugby is not a new idea, but one that has recently resurfaced, following the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup in Japan. The Six Nations became so in 2000, when Italy – the sixth and most recent addition – entered the fray. Since then, the Azzurri and Scotland are the only two teams not to have won the Championship and if you’re betting on the Six Nations this year, neither team are favoured very highly – although Scotland are favourites for their upcoming clash in Rome on February 22nd.
South Africa were the first nation rumoured to be joining the tournament, and rather than at the expense of lesser-fancied Italy, they would become the seventh team to join the Championship. It was a successful World Cup campaign for the Boks, who beat England in the final, 32-12 to win their third title – and take the top spot in the Men’s World Rugby Rankings. They currently contest the southern hemisphere equivalent, the Rugby Championship, alongside New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – but their exit would lead to several repercussions.
Pacific Islanders Fiji were another name to be circulated, although there has been no official confirmation of their application yet. Should South Africa leave the southern hemisphere tournament, it certainly opens a door for Fiji and the recent emergence of Japan to play regular Test Rugby. The Cherry Blossoms hosted a fantastic tournament, and won the hearts of rugby fans around the world with their fearless, attacking play, and passionate support.
Having previously coached teams including Japan, Australia and South Africa, Jones has an understanding of international rugby and its various competitions. He went on to express his opposition of expanding the Six Nations: “I can only talk from experience: Super Rugby was the golden egg of rugby, brilliant, 12 teams, competitive. As soon as it had gone out to 14 and 15, it had lost its allure. You want the best teams playing against each other.”
The potential shake-up would completely change the structure of international rugby, for both the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship – and a proposal to merge the two to create one annual global tournament fell apart last year. The future of European Test Rugby has also been a big talking point, with speculation of league formats using promotion and relegation to ensure that the best nations consistently play each other in the top-tier.
An example of this is Georgia who currently play in the Rugby European International Championships, effectively the second-tier of the Six Nations. They have won eight of the last 10 tournaments, playing against the likes of Romania, Spain and Portugal – and in the last two years, have won all five of their group games. While many are living by the adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015 and regularly prop up the table – so the inclusion of higher-ranked and better-quality sides would surely spark a bit of excitement and revive the competition.
It’s a debate which won’t go away, that’s for sure.