As usual during the 6 nations period, a lot of talk surrounds the state of European rugby and whether the ring fenced 6 nations is fair to sides such as Georgia or is it stunting their development.
The European nations cup has been around for a long time, albeit under different names, and is often referred to as the second tier of the 6 nations, it currently has Georgia, Romania, Germany, Spain, Russia and Belgium competing for the crown. But did you know, it isn't just another 6 team tournament, it actually consists of 5 six team mini leagues and a development league? It has also adopted a single season promotion and relegation system as opposed to the former bi-annual changes it had until 2016.
To show just how far some of these teams have developed, it wasn't that long ago that the Spanish national side played in the second tier European cup for club rugby and were perennial whipping boys. They are now showing great improvement in both 7's and 15's and will be hoping to qualify for the 2019 world cup.
Georgia rarely play a top 10 side, yet they currently sit 2 places higher in the World rugby ranking than Italy. For me, this is daft, Italy have had 17 years to develop, with all the exposure and financial clout that comes with the 6 nations, yet they have never finished higher than 5th place and have only ever had 23 wins over Tier 1 sides in my life time, is this acceptable development? Have they earned their place at Europes top table?
So how do we remedy this?
For me, the 2 season promotion/relegation system should be brought into play from the 6 Nations all the way down to Conference 2. That way, the home/away disparity is taken out of the equation. After the 2 seasons, a cumulative league table will show the worst side over that period. After the final table is confirmed, the bottom team would play the top team from the next league down in a playoff for the 6th spot in the higher league. To solve fixture crowding, this would take place in the Autumn international window, in a one off match at the lower teams home venue. For example, Georgia would be the home side against Italy. The team getting the home draw should be the hosts as they won their league, therefore earned the right to have home advantage.
So we have no unfair advantages with home and away matches, we have no fixture crowding and we have a playoff so the best team earns their spot in the higher division. What can possibly go wrong? You end up with the better team in the higher division for at least 2 season, making each mini league better and more competitive and helping the teams develop faster by exposing them to tougher opponents.
Seems a simple fix. People overwhelmingly want to see promotion and relegation. We recently ran a poll on the main @rugbyunited account to see how people wanted to see the championship develop the results showed a staggering 81% of people wanting change, or at least change to be looked at
28%Yes - prom & relegation
19%No - keep it as it is
38%Yes - but with a play off
15%Not sure, needs exploring
So is it time for European rugby to take a look at itself and realise that ringfencing the 6 Nations is stunting the grrowth of other nations? For me, yes. They need to change things up, Rugby Union is a professional sport now and the old boys network needs to be disbanded to allow new faces to flourish, we've seen the tri nations expand with Argentina coming on board, we've seen super rugby add Japanese and Argentinian sides, so will we end up with more Southern hemisphere sides emerging and improving whereas the Northern hemisphere continues to stagnate?
The more competitive sides we have across World Rugby, the better it is for rugby fans everywhere.