With the announcement of bonus points being introduced to the Six Nations for the first time in its long and glorious history, there has already been much delight and derision at their inclusion, but ultimately they will make little difference to the tournament’s quality of rugby.
Bonus points are nothing new in rugby union and they’ve been in place in all major domestic rugby competitions for decades, in one form or another.
They’re designed to provide incentives for teams to score more tries and therefore provide a more entertaining form of the game for spectators and viewers at home, or at least that’s the theory.
However, the Six Nations has been the one major rugby union event that has held off calls for their introduction, with some commentators suggesting they detract from the tournament’s traditions, but the majority suggesting any current system being used elsewhere could lead to a nightmare scenario where Grand Slam winners could arguably not win the Championship.
The Six Nations committee have cleverly got around this fatal flaw by gifting 3 extra bonus points to any grand slam winning team, meaning they would finish on 23 points in total as a minimum, one more than the maximum 22 a non-Grand Slam winning team could achieve.
Yet introducing bonus points to the equation is not going to force teams to adopt a more expansive or exciting style.
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Whilst some in the northern hemisphere look on enviously at the brand of rugby being played by New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams and some of the fare from Australia and South Africa, European rugby’s playing philosophy stems from domestic set-ups and the way players are developed at mini, junior and academy levels.
If there has been any change of playing style in England’s Aviva Premiership, which to a degree arguably there has been in recent years, that has been driven by the improving work of the Premiership clubs’ academies and the work they are doing in conjunction with the RFU to develop an ever-increasing number of quality young players.
Take the case of the majority of England’s current squad – holders of the tournament’s trophy and worthy Grand Slam winners. These are young players who have wider-reaching skills sets than many of their senior peers because of the quality of coaching and developing being provided to them at a younger age.
This is being reflected in the England U20s now regularly winning Six Nations Championships and World Championships, as well as the U18s achieving success against the rest of the world – including the southern hemisphere.
It’s the same in Ireland, Wales or Scotland, who have all been putting in better and more consistent performances at age grade levels in recent years.
Even then, do more tries make for a more entertaining Six Nations? For many fans the inherent joy of the tournament springs from the competitiveness of all fixtures and at times the attrition of teams in close-fought matches.
Ultimately, the bonus point system is not going to change the playing styles of the teams involved or the quality of rugby witnessed. That comes through developing and coaching systems and domestic teams and national sides working in harmony. It is an unnecessary gimmick that stabs at the heart of what makes the Six Nations a special event in the first place.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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