Six Nations Championship 2017
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(From left to right) Italy captain Sergio Parisse, Ireland captain Rory Best, Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, England captain Dylan Hartley, France captain Guilhem Guirado and Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones pose next to the Six Nations Championship trophy. Photo: AP

Six Nations Championship chief rules out suggestion of relegation

Tournament chief executive says there are no plans for promotion and relegation to be introduced into European rugby union’s showpiece

Six Nations chief executive John Feehan says there are no plans for promotion and relegation to be introduced into European rugby union’s showpiece international tournament in the “short to medium term”.

Following the 2015 World Cup in England, there were renewed calls for some form of promotion to give the likes of Georgia and Romania a chance of having access to more meaningful matches.

But Feehan has little time for relegation talk, telling the BBC on Monday: “In the short- to medium-term there is not any genuine likelihood of that happening.”

The last major shake-up to the tournament saw Italy added to the old Five Nations in 2000.

Italy have since finished bottom in 11 of the 17 subsequent Championships, but Feehan said there was no chance of the Azzurri being relegated any time soon.
(From left to right) Conor O’Shea, head coach of Italy; Joe Schmidt, head coach of Ireland; Vern Cotter, head coach of Scotland; Eddie Jones, head coach of England; Guy Noves, head coach of France and Rob Howley, head coach of Wales pose ahead of the 2017 Six Nations. Photo: EPA

“Some comments are very unfair about Italy,” Feehan said. “We think they have been a good addition to the Championship since they have entered.

“They have improved dramatically but other teams have improved dramatically – it’s a relative thing.”

The Irishman added: “It’s not that long ago they beat South Africa in the autumn series so they are capable of beating anyone on their day and worthy participants.

“We are very happy with how the Italians are approaching things.

“There is a long way to go in terms of being competitive to win the title. But on any given day they can beat any of the sides and they have done that, apart from England (the reigning grand slam champions).

This season’s Six Nations, which starts on Saturday, will see bonus points trialled for the first time, although a side that completes a grand slam will nevertheless be guaranteed the title.

“It is something we have considered for many years but resisted to date,” said Feehan.
England players celebrate after completing the grand slam at last year’s Six Nations. Photo: AP

“If you look at the Six Nations, it is inherently unfair because some teams have three home games and other teams have two home matches in any given year and there is an imbalance.

“That word balance is key and we are looking to see whether the benefits we get on encouraging more tries to be scored is better than any direct imbalance.”

But the immediate effect of bonus points when they were introduced in both the European Cup and the English Premiership was a reduction in the number of tries scored, with teams having an extra incentive to narrow the margin of defeat.

Former England flyhalf Stuart Barnes was scathing about their arrival in the Six Nations.

“The Six Nations problems have not stemmed from a try shortage but bad rugby and bad rugby matches can overflow with tries,” wrote Barnes in The Times.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Six Nations chief rules out relegation any time soon