By Mark Wyatt
The Six Nations will start a new bonus point system next year to encourage more attacking play and reward try-scoring. The system is already in place in the Aviva Premiership, World Cup and Guinness Pro12 tournaments.
Under the new rules, a victory will earn a team four points and if they manage to score four or more tries then they will be awarded an extra point. A draw will now be worth two points and losers will be rewarded one point if they lose by seven points or less, as well as an extra point if they score four or more tries. An added incentive is there for those who, like England in 2016, manage to complete the Grand Slam by winning all five matches – this will be a bonus of three points. This has been implemented to stop a team who win all their matches being usurped by a second place team who get more points by scoring more tries than the team at the top.
It’s the biggest shake-up in Six Nations history since Italy were entered into the completion, then the Five Nations Championship, in 2000. The new system has created quite the stir in the rugby world, notable from former Lion and Ireland captain Willie John McBride. Capped 17 times by the Lions, McBride expressed that the new system was not needed, he said: “I can’t see why we have to keep changing things. Rugby’s strengths are its traditions, but that seems to be forgotten.”
There are those in favour of the bold move though, former British and Irish Lions number 8 Jim Tefler encourages the new system. “It will encourage more open play,” Tefler said. “Nowadays the pitches are such in good condition that it does lend itself to playing more openly and this provides the incentive to overcome the defensive mind set.”
If the new system was put in place from 2000 then there would have been three different winners in the 16 competitions since. England would have knocked Ireland off the top spot in 2001, Ireland would have then taken the crown over France in 2007 and England would’ve won again in 2013 at Wales’ expense.
Perhaps the new point system will help improve the northern hemisphere’s attempts at World Cup glory. The 2015 World Cup semi-finals were dominated by players from the Rugby Championships, with the attacking play of Six Nations competitors noticeably lacking over the tournament.
The first game to see new structure take place will be Scotland v Ireland at Murrayfield on 4 February. Wales kick off against Italy on 5 February in Rome whilst England face France at Twickenham on 4 February.
Whatever happens in the next tournament, fans will be hoping the bonus point system will see more tries, more action and more drama. Maybe fans can expect an upturn in World Cup fortunes as well, but that is a test that only time will tell.