There have been questions aplenty over the last year about how to give Georgia more exposure to Tier 1 rugby.

The main suggestions seem to be 6 Nations promotion/relegation OR expanding the current 6 Nations to 7. I have been thinking for a while that neither of these solutions work in terms of pleasing all parties.

My suggestion – feel free to tear it to pieces, laud it with praise, or otherwise – is to hold a European Championship once every 4 years in between Rugby World Cups. Here’s how I think it could work…

Who would play and in what format?

If you look at the current state of European rugby, there are 8 teams who would be reasonably competitive against each other: 6 Nations plus Georgia and Romania.

Hold on’, I hear you say, ‘Romania? I thought we were talking about Georgia here?’ Herein lies some of the problem with expanding the 6 Nations to 7; how long will it be before we need to expand it again to include another of Europe’s up and coming teams?

Those of you who are up to date on your Rugby Europe Championship (6 Nations B as it were) will know that the most recent champions are actually Romania. They beat Georgia in this year’s competition and they also dispatched Samoa as recently as the Autumn Internationals. But the reality is, Georgia and Romania are not the only countries in Europe where rugby is on the rise.

Take a look at the 25,000 crowd that appeared at the Spanish Copa del Rey rugby final last year. Or have a look at Russian club side Krasny Yar’s recent defeat of Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup. Also, both Spain and Russia have beaten Rugby World Cup qualifier Namibia this year; they are arguably both better than a current World Cup team!

Rugby in Europe is on the verge of something big and there needs to be a system in place to accommodate this growth.

Expansion = Devaluation

I believe that adding these teams to an expanded 6 Nations would devalue the current product. However, if you made a separate tournament which gives them a chance to develop and catch up to the big boys, it would be massively beneficial for European rugby in the long term. So I propose:

  • 12 teams (6 Nations plus Rugby Europe Championship)
  • 4 groups of 3
  • The top team in each group goes into ‘Championship’ semi-finals, 2nd place teams go into ‘Plate’ semis, 3rd place teams go into ‘Bowl’ semis.
Groups based on current world rankings as of 21st Nov 2017

Each team would play 4 games overall (based on current world rankings, please do not take offence if you think your team would do better!):

Player welfare and drubbings

This structure wouldn’t be much of strain on player welfare as 4 games per team is virtually equivalent to a summer tour.

My only concern is over some of the 6 Nations teams handing out drubbings to the lower lights of the European game. You would hope that in 4 years’ time the teams from Germany and Belgium would be somewhat more competitive. Given the upward trajectory of rugby in Europe and the renewed interest in rugby due to Olympic inclusion, there should be improvements, but still, concerns remain.

When and where would you play it?

In terms of the when, how about having it in between Rugby World Cups?

The 1st one being in 2021, which is in 4 years’ time. This four-yearly cycle has the added bonus of not clashing with the football (soccer) World Cup or the Euros. It would give European sports fans a great international competition to get behind that could potentially – a fair few years down the line – make rugby massive in Europe.

Fitting into the calendar

Perhaps more of an important question though is, how would you fit it into rugby’s already crowded calendar?

At a time when player welfare and fixture overload is such a pertinent issue, this is perhaps the key obstacle to a tournament of this kind. I propose two potential timeslots in the current rugby calendar: replacing the summer tour once every 4 years OR having a European Rugby Championship in place of the 6 Nations once every 4 years.

My preferred option is the former, but if you were to hold the first one in 2021, this would clash with the Lions tour. Lions tours are one of the crown jewels in the rugby calendar, so I think it’s essential to protect them at all costs. So, to avoid a clash with a European Championship in 2021, why not move the Lions tours forward one year? This means that the next tour to South Africa would be in 2020.

Therefore, the European Rugby Championship wouldn’t clash with any major football (soccer) tournaments. This is essential as it means that European sports fans would really get behind it and potentially make it into a huge event.

If this is impossible, there is also the 2nd option of replacing the 6 Nations in February once every 4 years. This is not my preferred solution as the 6 Nations is already an incredibly successful product (highest average attendance of any international sporting competition in the world, along with a plethora of other healthy statistics). But it is useful to consider it as another alternative to the summer test window.

Where would you hold it?

Well, the prime candidate for hosting, I would suggest, is Ireland after recently being spurned for the Rugby World Cup. I’m sure they would host a great competition and they will be desperate to prove to the rugby community that they would have hosted a fantastic World Cup if they had been chosen for 2023. After that, other European nations could bid for the tournament and it would perhaps give those countries who would be unlikely to host the World Cup a chance to hold an international rugby tournament.

In Summary

I’m sure that a European Rugby Championship would be great for the development of international rugby and would capture the imagination of those European rugby countries on the verge of something big in the global game.

As far as World Rugby is concerned, surely they would be salivating at the prospect of having rugby as a popular sport in big European economies like Germany, Russia and Spain? I can’t really see any drawbacks at the moment, but I’d love to hear any feedback on the idea, so please don’t hold back in the comments below.

Author: George Wood

I am, and have always been, obsessed by sports. I have a particular interest in the development of rugby globally and spend hours watching, researching and reading about obscure rugby news and games from around the world.
I previously had a 6 year stint in China, where I set up an expat football team in Wuhan. I now reside in London, working as a statistical analyst, spending large amounts of my free time watching sports with my wife.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Great article George. The issue with 2020 lions tour is a possible rugby media clash with the Olympics. Plus there is an obligation that if teams tour Europe in November then Europe needs to reciprocate. There is already a lot of angst over the disparity in income between North and South.

    So if you want to have a European competition then it’ll have to replace the 6 Nations window. The other consideration is that the European unions rely on the 6N for at least two home games and they won’t want to lose that. So a European cup would have to offer games to a variety of venues and not a single nation.

    • Yep my thoughts as well, if you were to hold it in a summer tour window the main opponents would be SAANZAR as they would lose out on a fair bit of income. Maybe Autumn test income could be shared 1 year out of 4? But if so I’m sure the big northern hemisphere teams would want a guaranteed recoup on their money lost from any replacement tournament. I don’t think there would be much of an Olympics clash though because the Lions is in June/July and the Olympics usually happens in August.
      And yes if the 6 nations were to be replaced once every 4 years then the hosting would have to be split around different countries because I’m sure current 6 nations unions wouldn’t want to decrease their current income.

  2. Great idea and a nice read too George. I think the only way to make space in the calendar would be to replace a summer tour. In order for the southern unions to agree, northern teams would need to offer revenue sharing when they host southern teams. Even then, who would the southern teams face? They already play each other too often, 3 Bledisloe cup games a year is overload. Would a similar southern competition fill that gap? It could involve SANZAAR plus the Pacific Islands, Japan, the USA, Canada, Uruguay and Namibia.

    • Yep my thoughts too, if anything like this were to happen SAANZAR would not be too pleased. A ‘rest of the world’ comp would be an interesting idea.

  3. Good article George, I’ve suggested a knock out cup competition along the lines of the FA Cup but this type of competition would work just as well. I don’t think there would be any need to move the Lion’s tour either, in fact playing the competition at the same time as a Lion’s tour would make it more competitive for the weaker nations and allow the Home Nations to test out new players. It would also be easy enough to arrange matches to maximise TV coverage. More rugby for everyone!

    • Interesting thoughts Paul. Having somewhat weaker home nations teams would even things up a bit. France would still be able to pick a 1st team, although given the recent state of the French international team I don’t think they’re exactly going to be head and shoulders above everyone else.

  4. I think having such a tournament on at the same time as the Lions tour wouldn’t be too bad in the begnning. This would even things out in the Home Nations (teams contributing more players getting weaker) and make games with Tier 2 nations more competitve. France would be the biggest benefiter of this, but it wouldn’t hurt them to win something for once.

  5. I agree that sanzaar, wouldn’t be happy for financial reasons but I think, move the lions tour to 2020, and do move the tournament from country to country every 4 years but this actually opens an opportunity for tier 2 development in the Southern Hemisphere, their tournament could be to extend the current rugby championship and include japan and the 3 Pacific nations have a league structure (each team plays 7 match’s) then 1st plays 8th, 2nd plays 7th and so on, this would give Japan and the Pacific nations more exposure and increase the competitiveness of world rugby.

  6. In general, it is important to have European championship, especially for emerging countries. I would support an idea to have it once in 4 years. However, I do not like the suggested format – 4 groups with 3 teams. In this case t2 nations (like Georgia or Romania) is given an opportunity to play with t1 nations only once. In my opinion it is crucial to increase t2 vs t1 up to two games. Let’s take format which is used for U20 WC. The tournament covers a period of 7 weeks (from February to march) and replaces (only once in 4 years) 6Ns and “Nations Cup”. 3 groups with 4 teams in each. Eight best teams advance to quarterfinals: Two best teams of each group + two two best runner-ups, followed by semi-finals, 3rd place and final game. Those four teams which do not qualify for semi-finals will play two more games for 5th and 7th places. The rest four teams will play two more games for 9th and 11th places. Thus, best four teams play 6 games, others 5 games each.

    • Yep I think all potential formats are worth considering. I really agree with your point that tier 2/3 countries need more fixtures with tier 1. In between any potential championships there needs to be more scheduled fixtures, which will improve the competitiveness of the developing nations down the line.

      • George, thanks for quick response. In my post I missed two very important issues. First, the suggested tournament should be held under 6Ns auspices, not to damage their financial interest. Second, the tournament should take place in 2020 or 2022. As you know for EPCR teams 2021 and 2022 are 2023 WC qualification years.

  7. To play every 4years 3 games no thanks. Georgia is looking for systematic challenge every year we’d six nation teams , I now is not gonna happened for Georgia you guys don’t want us . My opinion to Georgian rugby federation to look for different championships like pacific challenge cup Japan 🇯🇵 Tonga 🇹🇴 Samoa 🇼🇸 Fiji 🇫🇯 Georgia 🇬🇪

    • I absolutely think Georgia deserves more than I explained in their article. There should be more scheduled matches between tier 1 and developing nations, between any potential ‘European cup’ or otherwise. Maybe in the long term the 6 nations is something that will be expanded when European rugby as a whole is expanded. But until then I feel this kind of competition is a good stop gap in the interim.

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