Moving the Six Nations to later in the season is back on the agenda and could provide the northern hemisphere with a bit of leverage in the global season negotiations
kThe Six Nations council meet in a couple of weeks to review the 2016 tournament but there is more on their plate than patting each other on the back and booking their hotel rooms for Dublin, Cardiff, Rome, Edinburgh, London and Paris next year.
It’s being mooted they will be discussing whether to bring in bonus points, promotion and relegation in the competition and whether the tournament should be moved to later in the year.
We were told the final one was a non-starter and the Six Nations would always be played in its current slot in February and March but, with the clamour for a global season increasing, a move to April is back up for discussion and the grand old tournament could be a useful bargaining chip.
Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby after a long-standing tenure at the Six Nations, is in favour of moving the championship and that is one up for the reformers.
In his wrap-up of England’s Grand Slam Eddie Jones agreed with the rest of the rugby-watching population when he said the quality of matches had improved as the tournament went on and conditions had more than a muddy paw in that.
England’s game at Murrayfield was blighted by bad weather but by the time the grounds had dried up the rugby improved markedly. Nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned slog in the mud but the powers-that-be are trying to attract more people to rugby – it has a loyal television fanbase – and a dose of running rugby would probably do the trick. So, that would be one positive for moving it.
The format of five rounds of games in seven weeks running from the start of February has not always applied and it seems it may not be as set in stone as we all thought.
It works at the moment because people have got used to it but they might have to get used to something else – it has happened before and may happen again, although not before 2020 as international fixtures have been agreed until 2019.
The first Home Nations Championship ran from 16 December 1882 to 3 March 1883. In 1948 when Jack Kyle inspired Ireland to the Slam, in the Five Nations, it started on New Year’s Day and finished on 29 March, two weeks after Kyle’s men had won the clean sweep, but back in those days only one match was played on most weekends. In 2002 the tournament was still stretching into April but by 2005 it was in the current format of starting in the first week of February and finishing in the middle of March. Of course in 2001, because of foot-and-mouth, England were denied a Grand Slam by Ireland in October proving that things can be jigged around a bit if there is a will.
At the moment everyone knows where they stand with the Six Nations. It is something to look forward to in January when fans are battling post-Christmas hangovers and the terrestrial broadcasters are happy because they have not got much else to show in early February to mid-March. The hoteliers and restaurant owners are doing a merry jig because they would not be packing them in normally at that time and budget airlines can fill their boots. But if the global season is ever to get off the ground something has to give and that something may be moving the Six Nations.
It is not as if the tournament is about to be scrapped or played in July – it is nothing more earth-shattering than shifting it a by a few weeks.
World Rugby set up a working party to look at the possibilities of a global season back in 2014 but with the Six Nations TV deal, done jointly by BBC and ITV, not due to expire until 2021 the administrators would have to do some work on the broadcasters.
Player welfare is also a phrase on the lips of every administrator but as Gareth Davies, chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union said, moving the Six Nations is not going to help that but crucially if the unions up here give a bit the unions down south would have to give a bit and everyone would be a winner.
Davies said: “Just moving three or four weeks is not going to help the northern hemisphere with player welfare, for example… So it is a bigger question than just the Six Nations. That is being looked at, at the moment.”
But the global season is a complete non-starter unless the boards both sides of the equator are prepared to compromise a little and moving the Six Nations would be a way for the northern hemisphere to show their opposite numbers down under they really are serious. But don’t expect things to change any time soon.