The 2019 Rugby World Cup is now over and what an exciting tournament it proved to be. Hosts Japans stunned the rugby community, topping Pool A and reaching the quarter-finals.
While a masterful performance against a weary England won South Africa the Web Ellis Cup for the third time. Now attention turns to the next major tournament, the Six Nations Championship.
Japan 6 Nations
The annual competition played between the six highest-ranked European rugby nations: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales gets underway on February 1st 2020. In the lead-up to the tournament, the usual questions are being asked: will Italy get the wooden spoon and will any team manage the feat of a Grand Slam? Six Nations betting with Paddy Power suggests the latter is a ‘no’, while the former is a given. But there’s one other major talking point – the possibility of Japan entering the frame in the future. It’s an interesting suggestion and one that will spark a debate.
The Six Nations started as the Home Nations in 1883, contested by England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In 1910, it became the Five Nations Championship with the inclusion of France. As recently as 2000, the tournament expanded to what we now know as the Six Nations with the addition of Italy. In recent years, there has been speculation around the tournament expanding further, to include the likes of Georgia or Russia, even at Italy’s expense. But there’s never been any talk of the competition expanding outside of Europe. It is, of course, speculation, and there’s been no submission of formal proposals.
The Southern Hemisphere already have their equivalent of the Six Nations, the Rugby Championship. Again, the foundation has changed over the years, and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa contested the inaugural tournament in 1996. In 2012, the competition expanded to include Argentina. The Tri Nations were slow to accept the Pumas, and talk of Japan entering the frame has received a similarly lukewarm response.
From a logistical point of view, Japan joining the Rugby Championship would be a much better fit, as it is already spread out over three continents. Rugby purists may also be averse to a European competition expanding beyond Europe, given the distances and interference with the domestic rugby season.
The alternative is a brand-new global Rugby Championship, and according to the national newspapers, representatives from teams across both hemispheres met during the Rugby World Cup to discuss plans. A similar proposal was abandoned as recently as June, with the Six Nations rejecting a two-league format with promotion and relegation. Teams from the English Premiership and France’s Top 14 opposed the decision due to player welfare, such as the impact of fixture congestion and the travelling involved interfering with the domestic season. Following the success of this year’s Rugby World Cup, a revamped competition would give the leading teams more opportunity to play each other. For example, before their semi-final clash, New Zealand and England had only played each other once in the last five years.
JAPAN RUGBY HISTORY
The Brave Blossoms shone on the biggest international stage. Not only did Japan host an incredible tournament but proved the force they could be in Rugby Union. Reaching the quarter-finals against the odds shows they have the potential for further growth, while the fans’ enthusiasm for the sport was broadcast for all to see. Let’s be honest, a trip to Tokyo in February or March is far more appealing than a weekend in Tbilisi.