Time for the Six Nations to adopt bonus points
John Taylor
February 4, 2016
Six Nations preview: Who will take the early advantage?

The oldest and greatest rugby championship of them all kicks off again on Saturday. The supporters booked their trips long ago and the sold-out signs have already gone up at most stadiums. It might not match the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship in terms of absolute quality but it knocks spots off it in terms of excitement and sense of occasion.

The northern hemisphere nations disappointed at last year's Rugby World Cup but that has somehow added to rather than detracted from the expectation. The International Championship (to use its formal title) has been going since 1883 but there is somehow more anticipation about 2016 than I can ever remember.

England and France are trying to reinvent themselves, Ireland are going for three wins in a row, Scotland feel much more optimistic after their good showing at the World Cup and Wales are desperate to prove they can kick on to greater things. But Italy will probably succeed in upsetting the applecart for one of them.

Taylor: Welsh front line must step up

The thrilling finale on Super Saturday last year, when it became obvious that points difference was going to be the deciding factor, has prompted calls for a bonus point system similar to that used in virtually every other competition but the powers that be have vetoed the idea.

"We would encourage all the teams to score more tries but we do not believe that bonus points in our championship would add to the excitement. It would be inherently unfair," says Six Nations CEO, John Feehan, citing the imbalance in home fixtures (in any one season it will be three for some and two for others).

C'mon John. If you believe the home team has an advantage -- and the statistics prove that overwhelmingly -- the championship has always been unfair and will remain so unless everybody plays everybody else home and away, which is never going to happen. But why does that make points difference the best option? It is just another points system, one which -- for some reason I cannot fathom -- you prefer.

Tries are essential when you want to boost points difference and the final weekend last year saw the teams in contention respond by playing with more emphasis on attack than at any other stage of the tournament. Once Wales had scored a hatful against Italy in the first of the three matches that day, Ireland and then England -- against Scotland and France respectively -- were forced to go for it. How much better would it be if that incentive was there from the start?

I believe that northern hemisphere rugby has become more attritional, more about domination rather than creating scoring opportunities in recent years and that has inevitably produced a more conservative mind-set than down south. Bonus points for tries scored would surely encourage a more attacking approach and the side with the best attacking game won the World Cup.

The coaches line up for the launch of the 2016 Six Nations
The coaches line up for the launch of the 2016 Six Nations© Stu Forster/Getty Images

Of course things need tweaking. It is totally disingenuous to use the 2002 championship as an example (as several commentators have) of what would have been a massive miscarriage of justice if the system of one bonus point for a side scoring four tries or losing by fewer than seven points had been in operation. France won the Grand Slam but would have gained just one bonus point. In contrast England would have won five -- losing by fewer than seven points against France and scoring four tries against all the other countries. Under the present system, where two points are awarded for a win, that would have given them a total of 13 points against France's 11.

However, nobody is suggesting the present scoring system would be retained. If you changed the format to award four points for a win -- which is used in every other major competition -- France and England would have finished level in 2002 and then, using a simple tie break, France would have been declared winners because they were the victors when they played each other.

"What if England had scored four tries and lost by fewer than seven points, scoring two bonus points?" I hear the pedants cry. Simple: make match points pre-eminent so that a Grand Slam cannot be challenged with the other factors only coming into play when match points are equal.

Slams are a rarity -- there have only been 37 in the 132 years of the competition -- so a situation like last season when Ireland, England and Wales all won four out of five is what we are really legislating for.

In reality, winning the Championship is not always the most important thing. I played for Wales in the 1973 championship (before points difference was considered a worthwhile barometer) when all five nations won their home matches and we all shared the championship. Nobody felt like celebrating. Finding an outright winner only became important when sponsorship demanded the creation of a trophy and the need to award it to somebody.

Because of the championship's quirky nature, no team can be really happy unless they achieve total dominance with an unbeaten season. The Grand Slam is the Holy Grail and anything less is an anti-climax. With every match having a fierce internecine rivalry at its heart, the league table is secondary. But if we accept that we have to find a winner, tries should be king.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist

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