It is not exactly clear what it was about last season’s Six Nations that led the committee to decide the system of bonus points they trialled was such an overwhelming success it should be made permanent. The best John Feehan, the chief executive, could summon as justification was: “[Bonus points] certainly didn’t take away from anything.”
He also went on to say that he reckoned this season they would come into the equation for determining the winner. Turns out he could be right, but perhaps not in the way the bonus-point swallowers hoped. You see, this vibrant, competitive championship could be denied the finale it deserves – and it’s all because of those pesky extra points.
If Ireland win with a bonus point against Scotland this weekend – perfectly possible – and England fail to do so in Paris – likewise – Ireland will be crowned champions with a round to go. The game long identified as the championship decider and culmination of all that is holy in the rugby heavens, England-Ireland at Twickenham, will be rendered a terrible flop.
Ireland would have been awarded the championship the weekend before on the basis that it was their turn to enjoy three home matches, which came along in a neat, uninterrupted run of fixtures of escalating difficulty. Indeed, if a side could have picked their ideal fixture list it couldn’t be much improved on the one Ireland were dealt this year.
It has always been a flaw, albeit unavoidable, in the Six Nations format that three sides enjoy the benefit of an extra home fixture over the other three. If there were a tangible argument against bonus points, this was it – that it would exacerbate that unfair advantage. But that argument was never offered with much conviction. If Saturday’s worst-case scenario were to unfold prepare for that to change.
And even if it doesn’t why allow the possibility of its ever happening? Bonus points add nothing but unnatural distortions to the age-old business of accumulating points for winning matches. No team changes the way they play on the basis of bonus points. While they may be permissible over the course of a long domestic season as modest reward to those who score highly or are repeatedly unlucky in losing narrowly, in the crucible of the Six Nations they have no place.
Why they were deemed such a good idea is anyone’s guess, other than to be seen to conform. Indeed, it is a curious anomaly that an organisation as insufferably arrogant and intransigent as the Six Nations should be so worried about falling in line on this issue, rather than, say, that of a global season or that of expansion.
It was woefully premature of them to announce an end to the trial after just one season – on the basis that it “didn’t take anything away”. In this, season two, the system could take an awful lot away. Surely it would make much more sense just to take it away.