After 32 successive Six Nations defeats, Italy's place in the tournament has never been more precarious. Hence this question for our Face-off debate from our May 2021 issue

Should the Six Nations introduce relegation?

YES, says the former Ireland hooker and now RTÉ analyst

Why should the team that finishes bottom of the Guinness Six Nations be guaranteed re-entry to the competition the following year? Money and stability are nice but I don’t see the current situation as being healthy for the competition.

Or for Italy, who have become perennial wooden spooners. They haven’t won a game in the tournament since beating Scotland in 2015 and it now seems a foregone conclusion that their opponent will win with an attacking bonus point.

Despite hope that Benetton would become a competitive team in the Pro14, that proved a false dawn and both Italian franchises will be in the Challenge Cup again next season.

Should the Six Nations introduce relegation?

Italian franchises Benetton and Zebre have seldom made a serious impression in the Pro14 (Inpho)

I believe the bottom team in the Six Nations should face a play-off against the winner of the Rugby Europe Championship. I’m open to the Six Nations team playing only one leg, at home, but there should be the carrot for every country in Europe to play on the top stage.

I know from having coached at the Dragons the effect of having a losing record year on year. It can destroy the morale and self-confidence of players and the team environment.

The Gallagher Premiership and the Top 14 have relegation and clubs like Harlequins, Northampton, Bayonne and Lyon have bounced back from the drop, arguably stronger.

A season spent winning can galvanise a team and make them more competitive when they bounce back. It shouldn’t be the end of their journey, as some people suggest.

Also, teams lower down have an opportunity to develop and grow – that would be good for rugby across Europe rather than just the traditional countries.

Before 2000, Italy earned the right to enter the Six Nations but I feel that 21 years is a sufficient period to adapt and develop. Ringfencing hasn’t made the competition stronger so I would advocate a promotion/relegation play-off.

NO, says the London-based freelance writer

Once again rugby’s most tedious annual debate rears its ugly head. I don’t care much for the senseless bleating quite as much as I worry about the dangerous caveat it sets.

This maelstrom of thought isn’t so much about the issue of relegation as it is the ‘Italian question’, accentuating their seemingly eternal quest to find a competitive edge in the competition. I’d put it like this: would rugby fans accept England, France, Ireland, Scotland or Wales not playing at the pinnacle of European competition?

Although not a simple conundrum to solve, I’m all for the likes of Georgia, a team central to the debate, being given a chance in an expanded tournament, not one threatening relegation.

Should the Six Nations introduce relegation?

Georgia, here carrying v Romania, could play in an expanded Tier One competition, argues Parr (Getty)

In a period where global development of rugby is begging for a wider appeal, is it necessary to prop up one team at the expense of another? Expansion of the game must rely on a team’s aspiration to climb and stay on the ladder, rather than the constant threat of falling off.

Despite dominating European rugby’s second-tier tournament, Georgia have failed to show any inkling that they would provide more stable and competitive opposition. World Rugby rankings fail to tell the full tale here.

Italy joined the competition 117 years late. It’s time to stop maligning this growing team with the constant threat of the ‘R’ word and give them (and potential new friends) the space and time needed to flourish.

Johan Meyer and Paolo Garbisi of Italy

Johan Meyer and Paolo Garbisi ponder how to stop the rot for the Azzurri (Insidefoto/LightRocket/Getty)

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This debate first appeared in the May 2021 issue of Rugby World.