Georgia vs Italy: Six Nations inclusion is not the answer to develop world rugby
- Fans call for Georgia to be promoted to the top flight of European rugby
- Organisers should just impose matches between tiers instead
Georgia are lining up against Italy this weekend in a rugby test match that is interesting beyond the game itself. With Georgia improving year on year and Italy the perpetual Six Nations whipping boys, fans are increasingly calling for the former’s inclusion in the tournament.
Suggestions include a Seven Nations tournament or a promotion-relegation system between the Six Nations and the Europe Rugby Championship, which Georgia have won eight of the last nine years. Since 2000, they have won twice as many times as the next most successful team, Romania.
If Georgia win this weekend the clamour to include them in the top tier will get even louder. But promoting Georgia to the Six Nations is not the answer.
The reluctance to include them may be indicative of a lack of will to develop second-tier nations, but the inclusion will not aid global development, it will only benefit Georgia.
What happens when Romania start dominating the second tier and improving? Does it become the Eight Nations, then the Nine Nations, until we have a Northern Hemisphere mega tournament?
And if the answer is relegation, then it could ruin the essence of the Six Nations. In 50 years’ time we could have a Six Nations and Europe Rugby Championship consisting of a random combination of teams that have no competitive history, and no rivalries that could bring the tournaments alive.
And that is not to say Georgia are ruining the party, as promotion would ruin their party too: if you want to pack a stadium in Georgia you have a game against Russia, just as the game against England packs a stadium in Scotland.
Promotion and relegation may starve both tournaments of these historic fixtures – no game against Russia is as sad for Georgians as no game against the English for any Celt.
Georgia and other tier two nations need regular games against tier one nations, that much is clear to develop the nations and rugby as a whole.
So, World Rugby should enforce one game for each of the Six Nations teams against the top three teams in the Europe Rugby Championship, perhaps at the start of the summer tours.
That is two top-flight games each for Georgia and two other developing nations guaranteed every year, along with other games they can organise in the November window.
Some will argue that the tier one nations would never agree to it. Well, World Rugby are in motion to create an annual tournament among the top 12 teams in the world (Georgia are currently 13th, Italy are 14th). If they have the power to enforce that, why not this instead?
Another popular argument is that the rugby calendar is packed enough already, and there is no room for more internationals.
Yes, but some of those games can and should be ditched. If Wales and Scotland have time to play each other outside the Six Nations, as they did last weekend, they have time to play Georgia instead.
The same goes for Italy and Ireland, who played last week.
In fact, Wales, Scotland, Italy, Ireland and England have all played Six Nations teams outside the tournament in the last two years.
That is eight potential test matches for the Europe Rugby Championship teams, if each game had been two Six Nation teams playing tier two nations instead.
This format would improve the Europe Rugby Championship and not just Georgia, so then there would be two tournaments of high standard, not just one that the lower teams want to progress into.
And, it would keep the character and history intact for each of them, which may be intangible but is important to fans and players alike.