With the six nations only a matter of weeks away excitement is beginning to build for the kick-off of what could be an extremely competitive tournament. This is largely due to England’s recent injury problems providing some hope to the other nations that they will not be able to continue their unbeaten run. But aside from the form guide, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the competition this year are rule changes which have recently been enforced and whether or not they will actually improve the Championship.
THE BONUS POINT SYSTEM
Firstly, the Six Nations is to embrace the bonus point system used in most Rugby Competitions. This therefore means that the winner of a match will now gain 4 points for a win and one extra one if they score four tries or more whilst doing so. Moreover, a losing side can gain a maximum of two points if they only lose by 7 points and score 4 tries or more too. In order to prevent the winner of all games from losing though they will be awarded 3 points which makes it mathmateically impossible for another team to win. This has been introduced in order to encourage teams to adopt an attacking approach.
Some may argue that ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, but in recent times there has been quite a few monotonous games. These usually take place in the early rounds when teams are eager to get off to a perfect start and are terrified of losing. For example, the opening game between Scotland and England last year was a figurative arm wrestle low on points and not pretty to watch. Although this may seem like a strange system to neutrals, I feel that this is a great idea as a number of Rugby fans, every year, are being asked to pay more money for tickets to these matches. This points system will therefore help to provide greater value for money and therefore curb disillusionment with the game, an issue which is becoming a problem in football where a lot fans are being asked to pay astronomical fees to attend matches.
The tackling regulations, on the other hand, are a little worrying. These were introduced at the beginning of the year and involve players receiving an immediate sin bin for executing a high tackle on an opposing player. As such, expect several cards and maybe even some reds brandished throughout the Championship. This rule has been implemented to reinforce the HIA (Head Injury Assessment) rule which removes the ability of a player to decide whether or not they get the carry on after a head injury.
Personally I think such changes could be the beginning of the end of this sport as the way things are going players will soon be sent out players in cotton wool. Although these regulations should be practiced at junior level in order to help younger players to tackle properly, by the time they reach professional level the rule should be repealed as,by this point, they should have learned how to tackle properly. Doing so would then prevent games from being ruined due to players being taken off for a period of time. Altough some may disagree with this view, professional rugby players are adults who should be allowed to weigh the Pros and Cons of the sport themselves. As Charles Bukowski once said, ‘find what you love and let it kill you’.
Introduce Promotion and Relegation
In the same way it’s strange to refer to the Major League Baseball championship as the World Series, it’s also odd to refer to the winners of the six nations as the European Champions. This is largely due to sides in Six Nations B competition rarely getting the opportunity to compete at the highest level. To resolve this issue, promotion from the B league should be introduced in order to help the game develop as many of these team do not get the opportunity to play high quality opposition until a World Cup, thus stunting the growth of the game. Some may argue that they are not good enough to play in the A competition, but Georgia have made significant strides in recent years by taking significant scalps against some of the Pacific Islands, losing by lower margins against tier one nations, as well as fostering impressive interest in the game. Doing this would also help to improve some of the less successful teams in the A league. Italy for example, have been stagnating in recent years, usually fighting it out with a underperforming country (usually Scotland) in order to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. By striking the fear of God into countries like this, an incentive to improve the game in such countries may actually occur.
Implement a reset limit for Scrums
In a lot of rugby matches, a frustrating amount of time is often spent by referees trying to execute a perfect scrum. Such fastidiousness from referees is displayed regardless of the variety of different variables which can influence a scrum e.g. the conditions and the quality of players taking part in the scrum. By introducing a limit on the number of scrums the rhythm of the game is less likely to be disrupted, thus helping to facilitate an exciting game by the aforementioned punters who are paying more for tickets.
In spite of my various issues, the Six Nations is still likely to be an enjoyable experience with some high quality rugby on display. However, it is important to recognise that the game, unlike other sports, seems to be constantly evolving as the professional era of this sport is still in its infancy. Hopefully, however, future changes will benefit rather than stunt this great sport.