For some, mainly rugby fans, the 6 Nations Championship truly represents the most wonderful time of the year.
15 test matches played over 7 weekends provide an opportunity to renew sporting and national rivalries in one of sports great annual competitions.
The Rules of the 6 Nations Championship are very simple indeed, covering only 5 paragraphs. The 2017 Championship will be the first played under a new bonus point system introduced, albeit on a trial basis, at paragraph 3 of the Rules which states:
“3. The following points will be awarded based on the results of each Match (such points to be referred to as “Match Points” to distinguish them from points scored on the field of play):
(i) The Union that wins the Match shall be awarded four Match Points or (if it scores four tries or more in the process) five Match Points.
(ii) The Union that loses the Match shall be awarded no Match Points or (if it scores four tries or more in the process or loses by a margin of seven points or fewer) one Match Point or (if it scores four tries or more in the process and loses by a margin of seven points or fewer) two Match Points.
(iii) Unions that draw a Match shall each be awarded two Match Points and any of them that scores four tries or more in the process shall be awarded a further one Match Point.
(iv) A Union that wins all five of its Matches (a “Grand Slam”) shall be awarded a further three Match Points.”
The new system is not unfamiliar to the players as it is already used in the World Cup, English Premiership, Pro 12 and Rugby Championship. The one discrepancy being the award of three bonus “Match Points” in the event of a Grand Slam – such being designed to ensure that any team winning all its matches does not lose out, mathematically, on winning the Championship.
But was there a need to introduce this new system at all in light of the success of recent competitions?
Those who argue in favour of introducing the new system say that it is designed to “encourage and reward try scoring and attacking play”. They will point to the Rugby Championship in particular which is often regarded as the more entertaining championship to watch and which over the last two seasons has seen an over one try higher average try count per game.
Those opposing the introduction will argue “if ain’t broke don’t fix it”. The new points system would not have affected the overall standings in the 2016, 2015 or 2014 6 Nations. That said if England had scored an extra try against Scotland in 2015 (they didn’t) they may have ended up winning the Championship instead of coming second.
It is of course yet to be seen whether the new points system will materially affect this year’s Championship.
Ireland received the first ever bonus point under the new system for losing to Scotland by less than 7 points, a feat repeated by France in their loss to Eddie Jones’s as yet still unbeaten England. Perhaps more tellingly there were no try bonus points in round 1.
And perhaps therein lies the rub. The 6 Nations is, well, the 6 Nations. A war of attrition between nations who are happy to grind out a victory on a cold and wet weekend in February or March; where winning is more important than the style in which you do it.
The history of the competition is deep rooted and unique in pitting such close nations against each other and it is this that truly sets the 6 Nations apart from its southern hemisphere rival.
Long may this continue.