A Welcome Bonus?

This week it was announced that Bonus Points will be added to the 6 Nations competition as of 2017. The biggest shake-up to the tournament in years, the announcement has certainly divided opinion in the rugby world. Having spoken to 4 of my close friends, I have found myself feeling very much positive about the change, but only half of them have agreed with me.

Moving forward, the points on offer in the 6 Nations will be:

  • Win – 4 points
  • Draw – 2 points
  • Loss –  0 points
  • Scoring 4+ tries – 1 bonus point
  • Lose by fewer than 7 points – 1 bonus point
  • Win all 5 games (the Grand Slam) – 3 bonus points

While it may not impact the standings every year (the 2016 table looks the same under both point systems), here are my thoughts on what this change means to the competition:

Attack! Attack! Attack!

While the last couple of 6 Nations tournaments have had thrilling final weekends, the rest of the tournament has not regularly reached even close to the same level of excitement. Admittedly, February and March are not always the best months for playing expansive rugby from your own 22, but hopefully the new bonus points will encourage more attacking play. Teams are clearly able to score tries, they just need the incentive to do so throughout the tournament.

It frequently comes up in conversation how different the quality of rugby appears to be when you see teams from the Rugby Championship (maybe excluding South Africa at the moment) executing stunning attacks involving everyone on the field. The skill set seems to put more of an emphasis on playing rugby rather than physically dominating your opposite number. It can be highlighted by the decision of the Welsh coaching staff to repeatedly pick Dan Lydiate, arguably a great defensive player and relentless tackler but not much of a factor in attack, in favour of Justin Tipuric, who frequently impresses with his ball-playing abilities in open play.

Hopefully the addition of bonus points will lead to teams being more willing to go for the try, leading not just to the selection of talented attacking players, but also to a change of mindsets to encourage more penalties to be kicked to the corner rather than at goal. It will hopefully also encourage teams to continue playing for the full 80 minutes in the hopes of getting something from the game, reducing the number of games where the final 20 minutes feel like 2 teams going through the motions. Surely this can only be good for the fans…

Protecting the Grand Slam

The idea of introducing bonus points to the 6 Nations is not a new thing. Whenever it has been mooted previously, I have liked the idea behind it, but been worried about the possibility of a team winning the Grand Slam but losing the tournament to a team who has lost a game but earned more bonus points. Luckily, someone had their thinking cap on and included an extra 3 bonus points for beating all the opposition.

I’ve done the maths here (maybe with the help of a calculator) and calculated that the minimum number of points that can be earned in a Grand Slam campaign (5 wins, no 4 try BPs, 3BPs for the GS) is 23. The maximum number of points a team with 4 wins and a loss can manage (4 wins, 5 BPs for 4 tries, 1 BP for losing by fewer than 7) is 22.

The ultimate prize of the Grand Slam has been protected by the people at the top, which was surely the biggest worry whenever bonus points were considered previously. Players are used to this points system from their domestic leagues and the World Cup. With the caveat of the extra points for a Grand Slam, doesn’t it make sense to make this points system universal in the top league?

What next?

The change to the points system will be in effect for the U20’s 6 Nations as well as both the men’s and women’s 6 Nations tournaments in 2017, with plans to review it after the tournament. I am a bit surprised that it will be reviewed after just one season, but hope that it is given a real chance and not ditched if the effect is limited in the first year. It may take fans a bit of time to get used to it, but I have faith that it will be well received for the most part if given a chance.

This could possibly be the biggest shake-up to the tournament since the inclusion of Italy, but I am sure that it won’t be so long until the next one. The performance of Georgia in recent seasons has rightly led to many calling for them to be brought into the tournament, either through an expansion or the introduction of promotion and relegation. I am very much in favour of expansion, but definitely feel that whatever the decision is, it needs to be sooner rather than later. This Autumn has shown that the quality of International Rugby in Europe is at a high point right now, it needs to be given every chance to flourish, and what better way than to have regular games between Tier 1 teams and Tier 2/3 teams.

What will happen next? Only time will tell…

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