Tackling Rugby
Should Six Nations adopt bonus points system?
ESPN Staff
February 7, 2013
Raphael Ibanez leads the French celebrations with the 2007 Six Nations trophy, France v Scotland, Six Nations, Stade de France, March 17, 2007
France would not have won the Six Nations in 2007 if a bonus points system had been in place ©

The Six Nations giants are reportedly toying with the idea of ditching tradition and embracing the bonus points system widely used elsewhere in the rugby world.

The change would see teams rewarded with extra points for scoring four or more tries and for finishing within seven points of their opponents as they are in other internationals tournaments such as the Rugby World Cup and the Rugby Championship as well as domestic contests such as the Aviva Premiership and the Heineken Cup.

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ESPNscrum senior editor Graham Jenkins believes the Six Nations could benefit from such a change:

Admittedly it is difficult to argue for a change to the format of the Six Nations in the wake of arguably the greatest opening weekend the expanded championship has ever seen. Sixteen tries certainly ensured the latest battle for northern hemisphere began with a bang and had fans and pundits alike purring.

Tries certainly get us excited - check out the wealth of coverage afforded last weekend's game across the media - and make the game an easier sell to fans at the turnstile and TV and commercial partners so why not encourage such rugby with a bonus points system that rewards expansive play from the first whistle to the last.

The thought of a side beating all their rivals to claim a 'Grand Slam' being pipped to the title by a vanquished rival who may have picked up more bonus points may not sit easy and understandably so. So why not introduce a variation to the bonus points system like France's Top 14 did that demanded sides must score three more tries than their opponents to claim a try-scoring bonus point. The Six Nations Committee could decide that a team completing the Slam would earn an additional bonus that would ensure they eclipsed any rival.

Those that scoff at the thought of such radical change may be forgetting that the use of points difference and tries scored to decide places in the table is a relatively recent innovation having only been introduced in the 1990s before which the title used to be shared if the teams were level on points. And let us not forget that tries were once worth nothing but a chance to kick at the posts - change can be good.

And those who cry foul at the suggestion of bonus points by pointing to the history books are also on dodgy ground. Ireland may well have won in 2007 and England in 2002 had bonus points been available but they weren't - and if they were then every side in the competition will have surely adopted a different approach which in turn may have generated different results.

Such a change philosophy in the future could ensure that the try-fest and glorious advert for the game that we witnessed at the weekend becomes the norm. The Six Nations is already the greatest rugby showcase in the world but could be even better - imagine that.

ESPNscrum assistant editor Tom Hamilton believes the current set-up works just fine:

The Six Nations is the last bastion of tradition in our ever-modernising game, so let's keep it that way. There is surely not a tournament without flaws, but few would have complained at the standard of rugby on show in the opening weekend of the Six Nations - it was a pulsating affair, so why fiddle with the logistics behind it?

The two-point win system has been in place since 1883 when it was just the International Nations and while the championship has since been bolstered to six countries with Italy and France's introductions, it has never been better. According to Six Nations chief executive John Feehan, "What we have in place works, so why would you mess with it?"

There are also logistical reasons behind why the bonus-point system does not suit the Six Nations. In 2007, had the system been around then Ireland would have won the title instead of France. The two were locked on eight points but France took it on point's difference. Had the system we know well from elsewhere been introduced then France would have finished on 18 points and Ireland 19, thanks in part to being within seven points of France when they lost 20-17 at Croke Park.

And it would also have had some bearing on the 2002 championship. France secured the Grand Slam but had bonus points featured, then they would have finished joint top with England on 21.

This is the crux of why bonus points would not work in the Six Nations. You could have the ridiculous situation where, theoretically, one team could complete the Grand Slam but might not end up overall victors. Ireland, for example, could beat the other five teams in the tournament but not get the four-try bonus point, while France could win four matches with four tries in each, get a losing point and end up on 21 points compared to Ireland's 20. It would be a ludicrous occurrence and one the current system avoids.

The wooden spoon could also go to a team who have won a game compared to a team who have lost all five - again try-scoring and losing bonus points coming into play.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the whole argument is through Philippe Saint-Andre's words, who said: "Me, I came into rugby because as a child I used to watch the (then) Five Nations and it was all about either the Grand Slam or the wooden spoon." So to all those doubters out there, keep this wonderful tournament as it is.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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