Promotion and relegation in the Six Nations is still off the agenda - this closed rhetoric has got to stop
Sir Clive Woodward waded into one of the perpetual debates about the Six Nations this week and got right behind the concept of introducing promotion and relegation to the tournament. It is just a shame, and shame on the organisers, that it is not going to happen anytime soon.
Martin Johnson once said that when Woodward was his England coach he came up with 10 ideas the-then captain would swat a handful of the more madcap ones away. But Woodward has got it spot on this time.
Unfortunately John Feehan, the chief executive of the Six Nations, does not see it the same way telling us recently that there is no chance of promotion and relegation being brought in for the foreseeable future. I wonder what they make of that down Tbilisi and Bucharest way where the Georgians and the Romanians must be wondering why they bother.
Many people have had their say and surprise, surprise most of the ones who are opposed to promotion and relegation are in the Six Nations already. All very cosy but it is time to kick down the door.
Last year Bernard Lapasset, the chairman of World Rugby, called for the Six Nations to be re-vamped to let other nations gatecrash the party. But he was on his way out of the top job in the game at the time so his words hardly hit the target.
But Georgia have hit the glass ceiling in rugby terms. They have won the Tier 2 European Nations Cup, now known as the Rugby Europe International Championships, eight times in the last nine years and have nowhere to go. Romania have been runners-up five times in the last six years and won the whole shooting match in 2010 and they have nowhere to go.
How must Milton Haig, the coach of Georgia, feel? He sends his team out every week knowing full well that even if they win every game by 70 points they will still be banging their heads against a brick wall.
Romania have been down this route before. Back in the 1980s they knocked over Wales, France and Scotland, drew with Ireland, and in 1981 were only narrowly second best to the All Blacks. They could have joined the-then Five Nations and had a decent crack at it.
That was all in the Communist era when most of the players were policemen or soldiers in name and could train any time they liked. But the collapse of Communism saw the slow collapse of rugby in that country and the chance was missed but that team would have held their own in the Six Nations.
Italy became the first team to join the championship, since France in 1947, when they were allowed in, in 2000. That was probably five years too late as well because they had a serious outfit in the mid-to-late 1990s but the suits dragged their feet before letting them in to the private party.
That team before they were given the green light contained giants such as Massimo Giovanelli, Carlo Checchinato, in the best years of his career, and a young scrum-half by the name of Alessandro Troncon. They gave the rest of Europe the hurry-up beating Ireland, France and Scotland, and giving England a fright in a World Cup qualifier in 1998, before eventually being grudgingly granted entry to the Six Nations.
In the 16 championships since 2000 Italy have finished bottom of the pile 11 times and peaked at fourth spot in 2007 and 2013. So they would be the most obvious candidate for the drop.
But whoever finishes bottom – and it was France in 2013, Scotland in 2004, 2007, 2012 and 2015 and Wales in 2003 should be destined for the drop or at the very least a play-off against the European Nations Cup winners.
If Georgia go to Murrayfield, Stadio Olimpico or even the Principality Stadium, Twickenham, Stade de France or the Aviva Stadium and win a game they should be straight into the championship.
And if any of the current Six Nations do not fancy their chances of getting out of the European Nations Cup – against the likes of Romania, Belgium, Germany or Russia they shouldn’t be in the Six Nations in the first place.
As Woodward pointed out, in the Daily Mail, if Georgia have a bad season in the European Nations Cup they are down the gurgler and into the second tier. So they have got a glass ceiling on top of them whilst they are standing on a trap door and it is nonsense.
Lasha Khurtsidze, the general secretary of the Georgian Rugby Union, said last year: “We and Romania need to be given a chance, something to aspire to, and we have been saying this for a while. Argentina were in our position not that long ago and look at them now since they were brought into the Rugby Championship.”
It works alright in the Premiership although, equally as shamefully, there are some out there who want to ring-fence the top tier of English club rugby.
If that had happened, when the idea was all the rage although it is still simmering, then we would never have had the Exeter story.
Trips to Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff, London, Rome and Paris are all brilliant for the fans and, we can assume, the men and women who run the competition don’t mind the jaunts either.
Maybe they just don’t fancy a trip to Tbilisi. It might not be Paris in the spring but it is time to for the Georgians to stop banging against the ceiling. It must be giving them and thousands of true rugby fans a headache – pass the aspirin.