End the Tyranny of the Six Nations: Let Them Play!

By Julian Ryan

The Six Nations rugby tournament has established itself as the premier rugby competition in the northern hemisphere. Originally starting with the home nations of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in 1883, the French joined in 1910, and Italy was added in the 2000 season. Winning a ‘grand slam’ has become the ultimate aim for any competing team in a non-World Cup year, and so prevalent is it that Argentina even wanted to join.

Living alongside this tournament in almost utter obscurity is the second tier European Nations Cup. This tournament is played annually and remarkably features 36 different European Nations – I for one had no idea so many countries even had a rugby team. There are seven divisions with two tiers and a complex promotion/relegation system, but whoever wins the inventively titled “Division 1A” is crowned the champion.

Over the past years, a mini-dynasty has formed as the small but proud nation of Georgia has risen to form a veritable powerhouse. Georgia has won the last three championships and five of the last six. The other “giant” is Romania, who drew 9-9 with Georgia in the de facto championship game, allowing Georgia to win on point difference. Between the two of them, Georgia and Romania have won all the tournaments but one since Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000.

As these teams continue to dominate, the time has come to ask whether it is fair they are not given the opportunity to compete at the highest level of European rugby. In 2000, Italy was given a chance to simply join, but were they better at that time than Georgia and Romania are today? Let us compare each team’s respective performance over three seasons to look at the relative strength of the teams.

Italy 1997-99

Georgia 2011-13

Romania 2011-13

Overall Winning Pct.




Average Point Differential




World Cup Record




Average World Cup Point Differential




European Nations Cup Winning Pct.




Average Point Differential in European Nations Cup





The data suggests that Italy heading into the 2000 season was not distinctly better than the top Eastern European teams are now. It should be noted that back then the European Nations Cup was not as established, so the teams Italy destroyed by an average of thirty points were not as good as those Georgia and Romania are playing today, with the emergence of Spain, Portugal, and Russia, in particular (and each other). In addition, I should point out that Georgia’s sole World Cup victory did actually come against Romania.

The Italians were a team that got absolutely shellacked 101-3 by New Zealand at the 1999 World Cup, just six months prior to turning it around and beating Scotland in their first ever Six Nations. To me, any argument that Georgia and Romania would not be good enough to hold their own against the premier European teams is not compelling. Scotland scraped past Georgia 15-6 and Romania 34-24 in the 2011 World Cup, and if Italy were let in after their mammoth loss to the All Blacks, the drubbings England handed out to both Georgia and Romania should be similarly discounted.

In my opinion, the most logical system would be one of promotion and relegation, as the bottom team drops out of the Six Nations each year, being replaced by the European Nations Cup victors. For too long, Eastern European rugby has been ignored. If the Six Nations let Italy in back in 2000, they simply have to give these up-and-coming teams a shot.

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