Do bonus points add intrigue to the Six Nations or merely muddy the waters? Whether you're a modernist or traditionalist, read this Face-off debate from our April 2021 issue

Should the Six Nations have bonus points?

PA England Rugby Correspondent
You’ll probably expect the case for bonus points to focus on the incentive they provide teams to attack. But recall events at the Stade de France in the opening round of last year’s men’s Six Nations for an alternative perspective on why they must be retained.

England were overwhelmed in the first half in Paris, a 17-0 half-time deficit signposting a heavy defeat until Jonny May intervened. His two brilliant tries hauled the World Cup runners-up back into contention, but the key moment was Owen Farrell’s stoppage-time penalty that secured a losing bonus point. It was only February but that effectively won England the championship at France’s expense.

Yes, bonus points encourage teams to reach for the jugular, providing the try-scoring fireworks essential to protect the game’s appeal in a crowded entertainment marketplace. And yes, they can add a new dimension of sporting theatre to ‘Super Saturday’ as rivals analyse the myriad permutations that illuminate their path to the title.

But also consider the losing bonus point, as demonstrated that afternoon in Paris, when England were rewarded for staying in the fight, for showing the resilience to come back, for ensuring the game stayed competitive. Out of their despair ultimately came glory.

What a blander place the Six Nations would be without the subplots of the smaller rewards on offer in each Test, the game within a game. Let traditionalists wallow in rose-tinted nostalgia; the rest of us are enjoying the intrigue that often keeps teams battling until the end.

Should the Six Nations have bonus points? Owen Farrell kicks

Critical: a late penalty by Owen Farrell in Paris effectively won England the 2020 Six Nations (Getty)

BBC Rugby Union Correspondent
In the Six Nations, winning should be everything and losing nothing. This has always been the way and it’s what makes the competition special. Yes, you can win the title after losing a match, but it’s the Grand Slam teams that we all remember.

The fact there are bonus points in a tournament like the Six Nations, or the World Cup, is an utter travesty. Was Owen Farrell consoled by a losing bonus point in round one this year, or Stuart Hogg in round two? Did Wales fans even notice they had scored a try bonus point at Murrayfield? I was commentating on the match and I didn’t. The game was too close, the tension too high, to get caught up in a peripheral irrelevance like that.

The story goes that bonus points promote attacking rugby. A fallacy. The sight of Farrell kicking a penalty goal in Paris in 2020, with England beaten, made me wince. So too Joey Carbery kicking it dead so Ireland could stay within seven points against Japan at the 2019 World Cup. It’s rugby’s version of waving the white flag. Yet, in the case of England last year, it ended up winning them the title.

Japan celebrate beating Ireland at RWC 2019

Done it! Japan celebrate after Ireland’s Joey Carbery settles for a losing bonus point at RWC 2019 (Getty)

I can see the merit of bonus points in a 22-round league campaign. But not in tournaments.

I recall interviewing Stephen Moore during the 2015 World Cup. Australia were in the ‘Pool of Death’ and everyone was getting worked up about bonus points. The Wallabies had beaten Fiji without scoring four tries, and I asked Moore whether it could be costly. He looked at me like I was mad. “We need to win seven games to win the World Cup,” he said. Quite right.

Get rid of bonus points in the Six Nations. There is no evidence to suggest they’ve made any difference since they came in. If anything, they just serve to devalue the great competition.

Stephen Moore

“And then this journo asked me about bloody bonus points!” Stephen Moore at RWC 2015 (Getty Images)

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