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Making A Case For 6 Nations Relegation

Daire O’Driscoll makes an argument for the introduction of a relegation/promotion system to the 6 Nations competition.

Wales coach Warren Gatland this week supported a relegation system in the 6 Nations. In a week where Gatland angered many by his “banter” remarks, the suggestion of relegation has angered Italian captain Sergio Parisse.

“You think a federation like Ireland or France are going to accept that to take a risk? Or is it just because we are Italy?” via BBC

Italy have participated in the European rugby show piece since 2000. Their inclusion in the expanded 6 Nations tournament came off the back of an impressive run of results in the mid to late 90’s, but it coincided with a multitude of retirements. The most damaging departure from the Italian national side was that of Argentine born fly-half Diego Dominguez. Since Dominguez’s second retirement in 2003, Italy have failed to produce an out-half of quality; a failure which has cost them.

In the 16 editions of the tournament since their inclusion, Italy have finished bottom 10 times.  Their longest winning streak in the tournament came in 2007 when they managed to win successive games against Wales and Scotland.

Italy’s domestic club form has followed similar trends. Since their inclusion in the Pro12 league, Treviso and Zebre have languished in the bottom quarter of the table almost every season. Treviso’s 7th place finish 2012-2013 is the highest rank either club has attained.

Treviso’s slump to the foot of the Pro12 is attributable to their threat to leave the competition in 2014. The announcement that they were to re-join the Italian domestic league led to an exodus of their top players such as Lorenzo Cittadini, who fled to Wasps. Though the club would later retract their decision, the damage had been done.

If Italy were to be relegated, they would be replaced by the winners of the European Nations cup. While England travel to Paris this weekend in search of a Grand Slam, Georgia host Romania in the finale of Europe’s second tier competition. The Georgians have won the past 6 editions of the tournament and they are currently ranked 12th in the world above the likes of Tonga, Samoa, and presumptive wooden spoon winners Italy. Georgia’s second place finish at the 2015 European Under-18 Championship, which included the 6 Nations, also adds weight to their petition.

Georgia beat Tonga and Namibia at last year's Rugby World Cup
Georgia beat Tonga and Namibia at last year’s Rugby World Cup

Since 2000, there have only been four winners of the six team tournament. England, Ireland, Wales and France have all won the tournament in the past seven years. Meanwhile Scotland and Italy have entered each year with the precise aim to finish 5th and thus avoid the wooden spoon. The possibility that either Italy or Scotland could face falling off the 6 Nations precipice to the pit of the Nations Cup could serve to inject some excitement into clashes between them.

The top brass at the 6 Nations have made their position clear. Chief executive John Feehan has stated unequivocally that the 6 Nations is “a closed tournament”.

“This is not a subject on our agenda and, frankly, it is not the job of the Six Nations to provide solutions for Georgia, Romania or anyone else” – via The Independent

The case for relegation and promotion is simple. For too long Italy have ailed too comfortably in their tier one status. The threat of being demoted to the second tier of European rugby nations may serve for serious investment in the sport, not just in the Mediterranean but also in the Highlands. Meanwhile the inclusion of Georgia would augment World Rugby’s attempts to spread the sport beyond a handful of nations. It would also further serve to strengthen Georgian rugby, which provides 15 players to France’s Top 14.

Parisse’s comments in the wake of Italy’s 58-15 defeat at the hands of Ireland are indicative of the problem.

“I think we need to remember what has happened in the past…We are really respectful of all the nations like Georgia and Romania and at their level they show a lot of progress but they haven’t got the results we have. They haven’t beaten France, they haven’t beaten Ireland twice.” via BBC

Italy are relying far too much on previous one off performances rather than consistent improvement. Parisse is correct in his assertion that Georgia have not beaten Ireland and France. Yet Italy play these two teams each year, a luxury not afforded to the Georgians.

Another wooden spoon awaits Italy in Cardiff this weekend, their 10th in 16 years. If they wish to remain in Europe’s top international rugby competition then it is they that must prove it. A win against a flailing Ireland in 2013 and two wins against less than vintage French sides in 2013 and 2011 should not sustain Italian rugby for much longer.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.