x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pushing rugby’s development has taken a toll

Efforts to spread sport have bloated competitions but had little impact otherwise

Scotland's Alasdair Dickinson looks on as England receive the Calcutta Cup following their Six Nations match at Murrayfield Stadium last Saturday. Russell Cheyne / Reuters
Scotland's Alasdair Dickinson looks on as England receive the Calcutta Cup following their Six Nations match at Murrayfield Stadium last Saturday. Russell Cheyne / Reuters

Should Scotland be chucked out of the Six Nations championship?

Possibly, but not solely on the basis of their abject, heartless loss at home against England last Saturday.

Since Italy joined the party to make an expanded competition for Europe’s leading rugby nations in 2000, Scotland have lost 52 of their 72 matches.

That is relegation form, unquestionably. However, there is no relegation.

The whole concept of promotion and demotion is viewed with almost xenophobic scepticism in rugby. In the southern hemisphere – and North America, come to mention it – the notion is an entirely alien concept.

If a team wants admission into Super rugby, for example, they just expand the competition rather than tell any of the teams they are not worthy of playing in it. As a result, we now have an unwieldy, 15-team behemoth of a tournament that is a shadow of the six-team, concentrated excellence that was first conceived to service South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Expansion for the purposes of developing the game, they call it. Really, it just means the pool of talent is spread even more thinly.

Real development would be leaving a footprint in other territories. Meaning, if European rugby really was interested in spreading the game, it would make promotion to its flagship competition, the Six Nations, a possibility for the second tier of nations.

Should countries such as Georgia, Russia or Belgium be given that chance to replace Scotland – or whomever finishes at the bottom? You have to be careful what you wish for.

It was France last year who took the wooden spoon. You cannot imagine the World Cup runners-up ever agreeing to a format that would have meant they would be playing second-rung rugby now. And Wesley Fofana, for one, should never be anywhere but the very top stage.

But is it healthy for the next-best nations to be forever pushing against a glass ceiling?

Currently, Georgia, et al, have one World Cup every four years to aim for – then nothing substantial in between.

Development in rugby is not an easy thing to achieve, as evidenced by the UAE’s pain in the Asian Five Nations, a competition in which relegation is the least of their worries.

When everyone is trying to develop the game, it stands to reason it will be the wealthier nations who advance quickest. Thus, the status quo remains.

So, do not expect Scotland to make way for Georgia anytime soon.

pradley@thenational.ae