Sport Rugby

Sunday 17 December 2017

Time to ring the changes in six nations

Hugh Farrelly

Remaining mired in the past is never healthy; something which became apparent on a recent visit to an over-35s nightclub in Dublin.

Carrying the refreshingly unambiguous title of Cougars, this O'Connell Bridge club follows in the proud tradition of establishments such as the old Sach's Hotel on Morehampton Road and Cork's legendary 'mature' hot spots Sidetrax and Counihan's (known affectionately as The Shelf Arms).

Cougars provides bottles of that 1990s nectar Ritz, patrons who can recall the Pope's visit to Ireland, and DJs who eschew the ecstasy-spawned horror that is 'dance' music in favour of the once-revered slow set and rockin' tunes by KLF and Shaggy.

Pure escapism, a chance to recall a time when you used to sit down without groaning, pronounce your plosives without spitting and dim the lights for romantic rather than economic reasons.

However, in terms of progression toward life fulfilment, these sashays into Nostalgiaville are ultimately self-defeating. Baggage jams the cloakroom (with a special section for broken dreams) and no matter how loud the music, it cannot drown out the sound of clocks ticking in the heads of desperate punters.

Tradition features heavily when the Six Nations is annually extolled as the premier tournament in world rugby and, in those terms, this northern hemisphere joust still holds a Cougar-esque allure.

But, when you stand back from the nostalgia and assess the merits of the Six Nations analytically, the inescapable conclusion is that it is does little to progress the claims of its competing countries in their continual battle to measure up to the southern hemisphere big three.

This was a pretty average championship and will not have the New Zealanders, Australians or South Africans dreading the inter-hemisphere contests at the World Cup. So, what can be done to quieten the southern catcalls and unfavourable comparisons with the Super 15 and Tri Nations?

The most obvious change is the introduction of the bonus-point system that exists successfully in virtually every other rugby tournament. Too many Six Nations matches peter out tamely when, if teams were chasing a losing or four-try bonus point, the onus would be on more attacking rugby rather than merely seeing the game out.

With the Six Nations still pulling in massive viewing figures, there exists an 'if it ain't broke' attitude on this issue, which cloaks the bigger picture.

Another welcome change would be using the same make of ball in every match. Without having the time, or energy, to go into the commercial aspects to this problem, surely it makes sense to negate the adjustment problems that occurred in this championship, evoking memories of the infamous "pig" problems on Ireland's tour to New Zealand in 2002.

A third change, and one not limited to the Six Nations, would be the introduction of a review system to cope with questionable decisions.


As it stands, the video ref can only look at the act of scoring to determine whether a try is valid. Thus, when Jonathan Kaplan was told the right ball was used for the quick line-out throw that led to Mike Phillips' try against Ireland, he had nowhere to go as the Welshman had clearly grounded the ball.

In Ireland's win over England, Brian O'Driscoll's first-half try was called back for a forward pass but, even though Tommy Bowe's delivery looked perfectly valid, there was no way of establishing that fact.

The solution is to bring in the review system used in cricket. Each team could have the right to challenge one decision per match which, given the high stakes and narrow margins in modern rugby, is no more than they deserve.

Finally, international rugby needs to fall into line with the club game and introduce an extra prop to the replacements bench.

The IRB told the Irish Independent a few weeks ago that there are no plans to increase match squads to 23, citing the costs for developing countries and the low rate of unopposed scrums at international level.

However, funds could surely be allocated to address this and, as with the other suggested changes, where there is a will there is a way.

Overall, there needs to be a realisation that, like that empty feeling you get when swaying out of an over-35s nightclub on your own, the old ways aren't always the best ways.

Irish Independent

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