Gerry Thornley: Six Nations organisers hope to avoid nightmare end scenario

Ireland could lose successive games but win the championship with losing bonus point


It’s not what the sponsors and Six Nations tournament organisers would want. It’s not how Ireland would want to be crowned champions either. Imagine a scenario wherein Ireland lose to Scotland but pick up a bonus point. Then the only way Peter O’Mahony’s could miss out on the title would be if England subsequently beat France with a bonus point and in the process made up the existing 77-point differential between themselves and Ireland.

In other words, a bonus point would effectively secure the title for Ireland, but they could not be presented with the trophy until the conclusion of the France-England game, by which stage everybody would have long left the Aviva Stadium.

Similarly, if Ireland lost without a bonus point against Scotland, they would be left waiting on the outcome in Lyon, when anything less than an English bonus point would lead to a delayed and decidedly perfunctory trophy presentation - more downbeat even than England here in 2001.

It would certainly be a far cry from the wild and joyous celebrations of Murrayfield on the final night in 2015, when to their credit the Scottish RFU allowed thousands of Irish fans to remain in the stadium and following the conclusion of the England-France game in Twickenham, put on quite a trophy presentation.

It would assuredly lead to a wave of criticism about the bonus points system too, especially across the water, were Ireland and England to finish level on points and Peter O’Mahony to lift the trophy.

For in that scenario, Ireland would be declared champions thanks to their vastly superior points’ difference and their accumulation of four bonus points to England’s none so far, and therefore despite having won three matches compared to England’s four.

That would, admittedly, seem to be faintly ridiculous.

This is the eighth season of the bonus points system, which was first introduced for the 2017 Championship. Under the old system of two points for a win and one for a draw, Ireland would go into this final round level with England on six points, while France would be third, rather than fourth, with five points and above Scotland on four.

Interestingly, Italy would be on three points and would have avoided the wooden spoon for the first time in nine years, while condemning Wales (on zero) to that booby prize for the first time since 2003. To avoid that fate, Wales will still need to beat Italy by 12 points or more, or with a bonus point, while denying the Azzurri a bonus point, in Super Saturday’s opening match in Cardiff.

Thanks in large part to the bonus points system, Italy can still aspire to finishing fourth or even a top half finish for the first time ever. France and Scotland, for their part, could finish anywhere from second to fifth, while England could be runners-up, third or finish in the bottom half again.

If nothing else, the bonus points system offers more scope for fluidity and jeopardy, and still remains preferable to the old two points for a win formula. Reverting to that would be boring. That truly Super Saturday on the final day in 2015 wouldn’t have been, well, quite so “Super” but for the bonus system.

Furthermore, recall the endgame when Scotland led England by 30-21 ahead of their own put-in and the game’s last play at Murrayfield in round three. Rather than seek a fourth try, Finn Russell kicked the ball dead. Had they scored a fourth try, Scotland would have needed to beat Ireland with a bonus point and more than seven points to win the title, whereas now they have to also win by a margin of 39 points.

Similarly, amid all the understandably wild celebrations of Marcus Smith and his teammates, coaches and supporters at Twickenham when he nailed that drop goal last week, England had a penalty advantage close to the posts and had scored three tries.

Had they used the advantage to score a fourth try, then in the event of Ireland losing to Scotland, the title would have been a more plausible target. By comparison, despite the game having been well won at 24-7, Ireland kept pushing for a fourth try against Wales and duly did earn a bonus point with the game’s last play in overtime through Tadhg Beirne’s try.

Remember too that the system has been the same for everyone for eight seasons now. It’s also designed to encourage and reward try-scoring, and in this regard it’s worth noting that thus far Ireland have registered three of the tournament’s six try =scoring bonus points to date, which is equal to Scotland, France and Wales combined, while neither England nor Italy have managed one.

Hopefully, much like all the idle chat around the permutations ahead of the Ireland-Scotland World Cup pool finale (when not even World Rugby seemed entirely sure of the minutiae), this debate will be made redundant by the quality of the Irish performance.

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