Friday, 14 February 2014

Briefing: 6 Nations promotion and relegation


Following the recent media and fan discussion, here is a briefing on the chances of a promotion and relegation system being added to the leading international tournament in the Northern Hemisphere the 6 Nations.

Where has this recent talk on promotion/relegation in the 6 Nations come from?
It's come from two of Scotland's worst performances in recent memory, in particular last weekend's 20-0 home defeat to England, which was so genuinely awful it looked as if a pub team could have walked onto the field and beaten them. This led to Scott Johnson's side being roundly slammed in the press by numerous pundits (some of which were overreactions), with his team's display described as "simply awful", "lamentable" and "embarrassing".

An upshot of Scotland's recent dire form has been the issue of 6 Nations promotion and relegation has found itself being debated, with ENC champions Georgia getting a fair bit of press in mainstream rugby media as a result. Notable rugby journalists like Brendan Gallagher and Brian Moore have been supportive of the idea and Scottish legends have been asked about it. Sadly, Georgia have actually ended up getting far more press thanks to Scotland's woes than they did for their win against Samoa last November which went under the radar a bit, and the Lelos' achievement of winning 6 ENC titles in 7 years which is hardly ever mentioned at all.
So what are the chances of promotion/relegation actually happening?
6 Nations CEO John Feehan
has roundly dismissed any
alterations to the tournament
None at all whatsoever, this is really just a mere media debate. Last year when quizzed on the issue, 6 Nations CEO John Feehan (also CEO of the Rabo Pro12 and British & Irish Lions) completely dismissed the prospect of nations like Georgia or Romania having anything to do with the tournament, basically confirming what most already knew. The 6 Nations is run by the 6 Unions, it's their tournament and they make the decisions. There is no way they would vote to put their own position and put at risk their financial and competitive advantages with relegation. And even though promotion/relegation won't happen, it's up for debate as to whether it would be the ideal system from the standpoint of global growth anyway.

Are there other ways that could lead to opportunities for Georgia could join the 6 Nations?
Not really. There is little chance the Unions would ever consider potential expansion unless it offered compelling commercial benefits for themselves, so that avenue is only really available to a real leading economic nation (if Germany were at Georgia's level then there would be discussions). The IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset gave them his backing to a right to challenge, but the IRB have limited power over the 6 Nations. The only other possibility would be if Georgia had remarkable on field success, getting to a World Cup semi final for example that would lead to the tournament to lose credibility without them and lead to considerable pressure for them to be added, but the chances of that at this stage are so minute it's not even worth considering.

So no 6 Nations, but can anything good come out of this for Georgia?
Yes. Even if the likelihood of joining the 6 Nations is very remote, getting talked about in some mainstream rugby media outlets as possible contenders could lead to some benefits. Conversation amongst the big media profiles like Keith Wood and Brian Moore and fans discussion inevitably leads to it filtering into the Unions’ minds as they get asked questions and start having to comment on it. The more that happens it increases the likelihood of some sort of concession, which plausibly could be more Tier 1 matches, which most agree Georgia are due considering they've had just one outside the World Cup in over 10 years. Even one match a year (which is rumoured to being proposed) would be progress on the current arrangement, even if it still some way off the more regular dozen matches needed to truly get the team good experience competing at a higher level.

If there is no 6 Nations to aim for, could there be other options for Georgia and Romania?
Something mentioned recently by USA President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville was his wish for the North Americans to play more often and potentially join the ENC. However for this would probably be a controversial move, as them parachuting into ENC 1 would upset the FIRA pyramid and may face protests from some of the ENC Unions that would miss out as a a result.

USA's Nigel Melville wants his
team involved in the European
international structure
However, there would be little stopping Georgia and Romania potentially breaking away from FIRA to form a new tournament with the North Americans, which would probably follow the Tier 1 closed shop model. It wouldn't be especially good for the worldwide game blocking future equivalents of risers like Georgia and would essentially be forming a Tier 2 clique. But one could argue that with Tier 1 safeguarding their numerous financial and competitive advantages by forming a clique, that the Tier 2 nations would be silly not to offer themselves the same advantages in order to increase their profits and competitiveness as well. If this proposed tournament went ahead it would offer the ENC leaders a better and more lucrative product, stronger competition and more professional Unions to work with and a chance to boot out Unions like the RUR that currently wreck the ENC's image.

Why can’t the tournaments be more meritocratic and inclusive?
Unlike other team sports like football, basketball, volleyball or handball which have continental administrative bodies such as UEFA mandated to care about all nations from top to bottom, rugby has a Union run model for tournaments. This leaves the 6 Nations fully in charge of their own tournament and naturally no Union would ever vote for any potentially self harming policies. However this system undoubtedly does hinder global growth in comparison to other sports. Under the UEFA model in football, a smaller nation like Bulgaria isn't barred from the European Championships because they aren't an economic powerhouse, and a big nation like England don’t have their place etched in stone permanently.

The only body that has to care about all nations from top to bottom in rugby is the IRB, and even though they have a heavily weighted voting system towards Tier 1 nations, they still at least provide the only guaranteed opportunity for all nations to qualify for the World Cup. Other than that though, Tier 2 nation's opportunities for big matches hinge mostly on Union blazers, which invariably mean they don't get them too regularly. It is similar to another sport, international cricket run by the national boards, which is even worse with the non-Test playing nations barred from Tests completely and rarely ever playing a Test nation outside the World Cup.

There was the idea of a UEFA style administrative body floated about by the LNR in November to run the European game from top to bottom. This was reportedly supported by the FFR as well, who have far stronger links to the wider European game than the other 6 Nations Unions and probably back it as they know they will all vote for them. Nevertheless, this would still certainly be the desirable outcome for those outside the 6 Nations, as a body that had to care for all the European game would lead to more support both domestically and internationally and lead to opportunities for those that earned them. However it doesn't look likely to materialise because as Paul Rees mentioned in his article "others are fearful of a democratic approach", and at this point in time, the 6 Nations is too popular and beloved amongst fans of those 6 Nations and there is simply little appetite for it to evolve into more of a genuine European tournament.


  1. Actually for Georgia having some hopes to join 6 nation Tournament is insignificant, It's undisputable. But, let Georgian team to have counter-parties from Tier1 teams is to be most important. I think it would be most fair offer if the winner of tier2 host the looser of tier1. so it comes +1 additional match with tier1 team annually. Sounds good! Isnt'n it? :D

    1. sorry, I mean the winner of tier2 will pay a visit the looser of tier1

  2. Would you be interested in a blogroll trade ?


  3. Philip Tibbetts5/5/14 4:37 pm

    Would the easiest way of expanding the 6N be through a conference style system. You could have a 'home nations conference' to keep the triple crown history alive and a 'continental conference' with Georgia & Romania. After all teams had played each other once in their conference the conference would split with the top two in each playing the teams from the top of the other conference (and same for the bottom). That seems to be the best way of expanding the 6N, keeping much of the history/tradition and not increasing the number of games. It would also be feasible to add further conference in future as other teams developed (perhaps a home nations conference, a Mediterranean conference and a Eastern European conference)