Unions to consider bonus points system
The oldest rugby championship in the world is preparing the way to introduce one of the latest inventions of the modern game, bonus points.
Each of the unions in the Six Nations left a board meeting in London this week clutching a comprehensive paper outlining the pros and cons of the tournament falling into line with almost every other professional rugby competition. The figures will be considered in the coming months before a final decision is taken.
It could mean the 2014 tournament breaks with the tradition of two points for a win and one for a draw, but nobody wants to put the coveted Grand Slam at threat. Under the system of four points for a win and two for a draw, with bonus points for teams scoring four tries and finishing within seven points of the opposition, it would be possible for a team to complete a Grand Slam yet finish second in the championship.
That is the major sticking point in a plan that has the backing of new Six Nations chairman Bill Beaumont, who feels the time is right to make the games more competitive, especially as there are significant sums on offer to teams depending on where they finish in the table.
“A paper has gone to each union that outlines the implications of adopting the bonus point system. Since the Six Nations began in 2000 there is only one season in which a side winning the Grand Slam would have come second had the customary bonus points system been in place,” said Beaumont. “That was in 2002, when France won all four games, but picked up only one try bonus point to finish with 21 points, while England earned a losing bonus point against the French and got try bonuses in each of their other games to reach 21 points with a superior try count.
“There is a school of thought that if something isn’t broken you don’t try to fix it, but we are the only championship that doesn’t have bonus points and we need to examine whether a new points system might add something to the games. I think it would be a good thing for the championship, the players and the fans. But the unions have to be unanimous to make the change.”
Wales coach Rob Howley pointed out it would lead to more attacking play, more tries and a more skilful championship, but new French coach Philippe Saint André is more sceptical. Ireland coach Declan Kidney believes the normal system wouldn’t be right for a championship in which the Holy Grail is the Grand Slam.
“It’s something worth looking at but I’m not sure the four tries and the losing by seven points should count when one year you’re away three times and home twice and vice versa the next,” said Kidney. “There might be another system which would encourage attacking play. I see the merits of it in the Heineken Cup, where there are six pools, 24 teams and every match counts. But because this is a smaller competition . . . you have to have a serious look.
“It’s fair in the Heineken Cup and other leagues because it’s home and away, and you have that many more matches to get in the back door. It’s worth looking at, but I’m not sure that system would be fair, suitable and equitable in the Six Nations.”
Ireland have traditionally been among the heaviest try scorers in the Six Nations and their superior try count in 2007 would have seen them take the title ahead of France for the first time since 1985. Saint-André spoke up passionately in defence of the current system.
“For me the Six Nations is only about the Grand Slam and the wooden spoon. I don’t care if we have bonus points, but it would be against the spirit of the tournament if the team who completed the Grand Slam didn’t win the title – I wouldn’t want to win it that way,” he said.
“Have bonus points but make sure if any team wins all their matches they get extra points so they are the champions. The Grand Slam is the heart and soul of this championship.”
In retrospect Six Nations bonus points
By applying the bonus point system as used in the Heineken Cup, RaboDirect Pro12, Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup, there would have been five seasons where change in the order would have occurred since the Six Nations began in 2000.
On two of those occasions, 2002 and 2007, the champions would have been different – Ireland winning in 2007.
That is applying bonus points retrospectively, but with teams knowing about them, their attitude might change.