Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Would relegation be using the 6N wooden spoon for punishment or mixing things up?





Challenge accepted!


Though before I begin I must contrast the above tweet with a comment I received on a previous Facebook post about Six Nations reform, a comment which essentially said “You think you know better than (6N CEO) John Feehan?”  When caught between one encouragement to write and another to shut up, a blogger is only ever going to lean one way!!!! ;-)

So as much as I am loathe to link to the Daily Mail, let us first have a look at what Woodward said :
Italy have become soft in the cosy Six Nations club... let's get real, the tough love of a relegation play-off needs to happen to reinvigorate them
I am definitely in favour of some kind of promotion and relegation system for the Six Nations.  However, I’m not wild about Woodward’s reasoning, which seems to be “we need to do this because Italy are shite”.  That is not a worthwhile justification for this kind of reform.  It has to be something that benefits the game as a whole, and it has to be done both sensibly and equitably.

But just for argument’s sake, let us stick with this current Italian side.  Chances are, the recent tonking Ireland gave them in Rome will not be their last in this year’s Six Nations.  So with the status quo in place, they will be back again for next year’s competition, and meanwhile, Treviso and Zebre will no doubt occupy the bottom of the Pro12 table, also without any repercussions.

Now to introduce the question in my title.  Is relegation the same as “punishment”?  Let us imagine that Woodward’s proposal is in place, and, say, Georgia win a playoff.  What happens to Italy next spring?

Well, instead of a schedule which includes Ireland, England, France and Scotland, they now would face the likes of Romania, Spain, Russia and Germany in what is currently known as the Rugby Europe Championship.  They will still have five matches, only this time, they stand an extremely decent chance of actually winning some, and most likely all, of them.

I know it seems trite to spell this out, but I believe I must.  This is the whole POINT of relegation after all!  You’re not up for this level, so why not try the one below!  Does it have to be seen as necessarily negative?

Not that there aren’t obvious downsides, the most significant of which is money because let’s face it, the buck always stops at the bucks.  

There’s a big TV pot to be divvied up at Six Nations level, so yes, dropping down will hurt the pockets of the FIR.  I’m not unsympathetic to that, but I also have to feel for the Italian fans who surely must be sick and tired of shelling out money year after year to watch their side continually get hidings.  Maybe a “grand slam” at the lower level will both lift their spirits and open their pockets?

Also on the subject of money, what about a “parachute payment” similar to that they have in English soccer?  Maybe the TV pot share for the relegated country can be divided up with two thirds going to the country coming up, and the other to the one going down?  These things can be worked out.

Now we must address two other players in this drama...the travel companies and the “alickadoos”.

I’ve never been, but I’m sure Tbilisi is lovely at this time of year.  You still have to ask...would travelling rugby fans rather go there or to Rome if given the choice? Also the way things are now, they can set dates, venues and kickoff times years in advance but with relegation it would have to be done year to year.   If it were down to me, I wouldn’t worry so much about how many people were booking flights, hotels, etc, but realistically, it will most certainly be taken under consideration by Six Nations Ltd.

Then there’s the whole “turkeys voting for Christmas” argument.  Sure, Italy’s form might be poor now, but what if they get stronger down the line, and Scotland continue to improve.  Would Ireland, England, Wales and France mind planning trips to Bucharest and Madrid instead of Twickenham and Cardiff?  I’m an Irish fan and of course I don’t want that for us.  But who the hell does?  If it bothers us that much, do we hide behind the status quo or make sure it’s never us that faces the drop?

We can’t discuss a topic like this without pointing out the reality of how the top level of rugby union is organized.  It is effectively run as a cartel, with the “top ten” unions happy to keep things as they are so they can maintain control over their own affairs.  I don’t mean that description as an entirely bad thing, but when the subject matter is making improvements in the sport around the world, it definitely needs to be at very least acknowledged.

So if relegation can be seen as an opportunity not a punishment, how can we view promotion for the team coming up?  Surely as a reward for other countries around the continent who have worked hard to improve their standards.  And of course nowadays in European rugby, that can’t mean anyone but Georgia (who I see at the time of publishing are keener than ever before to join the top table somehow).

There’s no denying that if "The Lelos" entered the Six Nations, it is very possible they will drop straight back down again in their first season.  But even that won’t be without benefits.  Imagine the hype before their first home game?  And who knows...the could even catch someone on the hop and poach a win along the way!

I’m a fan of Leinster & Ireland rugby first and foremost it is true.  But I also want to see the game grow around the world.  Were it down to me, I’d be open to making some sacrifices to help that happen.  But my ability to affect change ends at the tips of my fingers as I hit the keys for this blog.

We’ll see what those with the real power will do, if anything. Personally I think the long-term position will be something akin to “Well we brought in the bonus points, let’s see how that works for a few years; only then maybe we’ll look at other things.”  JLP

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