'It's a bit contradictory': Luke Fitzgerald pinpoints interesting issue with new Six Nations bonus point system
The Six Nations announced a new bonus points system this afternoon to encourage more tries - but Luke Fitzgerald has identified one apparent contradiction in the new rules.
The annual northern hemisphere tournament will trial the same bonus point rules that are currently in place in the Champions Cup, which sees teams given an additional point for scoring four tries and/or for losing by seven points or less.
On the surface, Fitzgerald - who analyses the weekend's action every Monday on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's new rugby show - thinks the new system is a progressive step for the tournament.
"A really exciting addition," Fitzgerald told Independent.ie.
"One thing about the Six Nations is that it is played when the weather is poor so teams tend to play it a bit safer. This incentivises scoring tries and let's face it, that is what spectators want to see. It will also incentivise teams who it looks like are out of a game to keep going and to get a point out of it. Scoring more tries and keeping games competitive for longer are important things to incentivise and I think they've done that with the new system."
However, Fitzgerald also raises an interesting point about one new quirk in the rules. In order to safeguard the sanctity of the Grand Slam, any team who completes a clean sweep will be awarded an extra three points.
This is done to ensure that a Grand Slam champion who finishes on 20 points (five wins with no bonus points), doesn't get pipped to the title by a team who wins four times while picking up five bonus points.
Such an anomaly would have came to pass in 2002 - with all things being equal - had the current rules been in place, with Clive Woodward's England beating Grand Slam champions France to Six Nations glory.
Fitzgerald thinks that it's a bit 'contradictory' to introduce measures that promote scoring tries while also tacking on a rule that means a team can bludgeon their way to five 3-0 victories and lift the trophy at the expense of a side who collected more points through attacking rugby.
"I think that was a bit of a weird one for me," Fitzgerald says of the Grand Slam rule.
"I think it should always be done by points, the team with the most points should win. I think it's a bit contradictory. They're trying to say, I want you to play more expansive rugby and we are going to encourage scoring tries by giving you more points for tries. Then you say, actually if you go and win every game, you can actually play pretty crap rugby and still win every game and still win the tournament. I think it is a bit contradictory in that sense."
Another issue raised by the new rule was whether it would benefit specific teams based on their fixture list, given sides only play each other once. For instance, this year Ireland play Italy - a game that will be targeted by teams as a possible bonus point - away in week one while England host them in Twickenham later in the tournament.
However, the former Ireland, Lions and Leinster wing thinks that that problem is nothing new, given the fixture list routinely dictates the end of tournament points differential, which often decides the winner.
"That impacts the tournament anyway," Fitzgerald says.
"If you have weaker teams at home, it impacts the points difference anyway so I think it balances itself out. I think it incentivises running rugby and playing a weaker team at home in a given year still made a big difference on points difference, and that has made a big impact in recent years."