The idea of South Africa in an expanded Six Nations is alarming and would further damage rugby development in Europe. I would like to ask the authorities of Six Nations and World Rugby to think again.
It would be a textbook example of a possible short-term financial benefit that replaces the much greater need to develop European rugby.
We need to turn the Six Nations into a well-structured, coherent, continental championship with promotion and relegation. It can and must become an integral part of a European structure of international rugby that would undergo enormous development in the game and ultimately yield many more players and teams.
Georgia, which plays Uruguay here during the 2019 World Cup, has won the ERC 11 times since 2000
The current Six Nations contains teams exclusively from Europe, the most recent participant in Italy
The big irony, of course, is that such a progressive Six Nations, which embraces the rest of Europe with a vibrant second division from which powerful teams can be promoted, is much more financially viable and lucrative in the medium and long term than the proposed annexation of South Africa at the competition.
Europe is the larger long-term market. We may have left Europe politically, but in sports and rugby terms we have to stay close.
South Africa parachuting to the Six Nations after the 2023 World Cup would be a backward, counter-intuitive step and feel that something has emerged from one of those blue-sky weekend meetings with “decision makers.”
As a reigning world champion, South Africa is currently bringing a lot to the table and perhaps trying to use it as a lever as long as it can – but rugby must have a long-term strategic vision.
Has anyone other than the number crunchers really thought about this in terms of player welfare and the huge dent it would have in the wallet of supporters?
With all these annual competitions against the Springboks, November Tests and summer trips would also become superfluous and Lions trips to South Africa are old hats with no new value.
Lion tours (over 2009) would have no new value if South Africa were to join the Six Nations
The November Tests are old hat, just like Lions tours to South Africa
The biggest problem, of course – and we have discussed this endlessly – is that the Six Nations is not run by the world government, World Rugby or one of its continental subsidiaries.
It is a historic competition, but the reality is that it is a private, invitation-only, commercially driven company that has no reason to promote rugby in the rest of Europe, let alone the world.
The assignment is to maximize the profit for the six member unions, which are usually used to finance the club game in those countries.
World Rugby must be strong enough to manage the game globally. If different ‘private’ competitions are allowed to dictate policy and become decision-makers, where does the administrative body go?
The Six Nations must be for the whole of Europe if civil servants want the sport to grow seriously.
The logical – and fair – thing to do is to introduce a system of promotion and relegation with the annual winner of the Rugby Europe Championship (REC), normally Georgia, although Romania, Spain and Russia have all been pushing hard in recent seasons.
Georgia takes over Romania in the Rugby Europe Championship in Tbilisi on 1 February
I accept that such promotion and relegation must initially take place through a play-off between the lower team of the Six Nations and the upper team of REC, but in the end we have to make it automatically. That’s how league systems work in sports around the world.
These countries cannot go anywhere, their way has been artificially cut off for far too long.
The Five Nations helped kill Romanian rugby by never considering their inclusion in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Six Nations could be accused of doing the same with Georgia if they don’t get the chance to develop.
Spain is a rugby nation that awaits when the huge sports community there thinks there is a chance to get a whip.
Portugal currently has some great young backs, but most are amateurs who withdraw to become doctors or lawyers if their national team stays muzzled and discouraged from making that daring leap.
Unfortunately, in the current format, the team that ends the bottom of the REC goes directly into a relegation play-off game against the winners of REC2, while the top team is forbidden to challenge a place in the Six Nations. That is intrinsically unfair.
The Spanish rugby team celebrates their victory against Russia in the ERC 2020 last week
If relegation and promotion were part of the Six Nations, it is quite possible that Italy and Scotland had produced much stronger and more consistent sides in recent years. That is the advantage that is never considered.
Trying to avoid an annual promotion / relegation play-off game against Georgia would beautifully concentrate the mind and galvanize their teams.
There would no longer be a safety net. How refreshing that would be for the tournament.