Should the Six Nations have promotion and relegation?
This week Eddie Jones has his England team training against Georgia. The reigning Six Nations champions had intended to fly to Tbilisi for two days of training against the Eastern powerhouse during the tournament’s first fallow week. Instead, the Georgians will fly in to London for sessions against the English on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Asked about the reasoning behind smashing into the Georgians, Jones said: “We want to have the best scrum in the world and they’re the biggest, ugliest, strongest scrum pack in the world. Why wouldn’t we want to scrummage against them? It’s fantastic. We’re good friends with their two coaches, Milton Haig and Richard Graham – a Kiwi and an Aussie. They were keen on the idea and it suits us perfectly.”
It is interesting timing and something that could bring up that old question: if Georgia are so good, why can’t they be promoted into the Six Nations?
Italy’s travails and the strides made by Georgia have been central to the debate about promotion and relegation, but as recently as 2014 there were also calls for Scotland to drop out of the championship after a dismal showing against England. Now, talk again turns to the make-up of the famous tournament after Italy fell to Ireland 56-19 and Georgia demolished Belgium 47-0 in Europe’s second tier competition, the Rugby Europe Championship. Will the issue ever really go away?
The ability for any team, be it a grass-roots club or Test side, to aspire to climb the ladder is a crucial element in sport. If there is no way of moving up, a team’s motivation to develop and progress can suffer.
Yet the championship has never had promotion and relegation. France and Italy were introduced when their form called for it. But adding Georgia or Romania, who won last year’s Rugby Europe Championship, to make a Seven Nations would not be an easy-fix. Regardless of the tough choice of which country deserves a spot, two logistical issues need to be considered: the travel (there are few direct flights to Tbilisi from London and none from the capitals of the other nations) and the additional fixtures that would be created in an already overcrowded calendar.
Keeping six teams, with promotion and relegation between the Six Nations and the Rugby Europe Championship, makes more sense but throws up different issues in terms of the running of the tournament, stakeholders, sponsorship and broadcast deals, and so on.
It’s not just in the men’s tournament that this is an issue. Spain have long campaigned for a return to the Women’s Six Nations after being ousted by Italy in 2007, while Georgia want their U20s team to play in that championship.
There is no simple solution, which is why some feel the status quo is best.
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