|Photo The Scotsman|
The organization of European rugby was severely questioned on Saturday as Scotland and Italy were humiliated in the Six Nations championship. Both sides were badly beaten and not for the first time in the competition. They lost by scorelines of 52-11 and 51-3 against England and Wales and did so against a backdrop of Georgia winning Europe´s second division, the European Nations Cup. With there being no promotion / relegation between the competitions Georgia remains trapped in a competition it has won on the last four occasions.
A first half red card to Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg prevented the Northern Europeans from playing to their peak and enabled Wales to win by a larger margin than would otherwise have been possible. Scotland, nonetheless, played poor rugby throughout the tournament. Scotland won one match and lost four including large defeats not only by Wales but also by England and Ireland. Italy was winless but was arguably very unlucky to lose against Scotland by a late drop goal. The teams were, overall, similar in that they were no match for the other four.
The updated IRB World Rankings to be released at midday on Monday GMT are to see Scotland dropping points but holding onto 10th position in the world while Italy will be unchanged despite losing by a notable margin at home. The IRB World Rankings are far from flawless but they do allow for rational judgement in a number of instances. One such case is the lack of international competition between Tier One European Nations against Tier Two sides from Europe.
Italy´s position of 14th in the world means it is ranked below Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Canada - four Tier Two nations. It faces Tier Two sides every year and does so both in Italy and across continents. It does not, however, face Georgia or Romania ranked 16th and 17th. Indeed although Italy toured Canada and the USA in June 2012 and will tour Japan, Fiji and Samoa this coming June Italy it is yet to play a test in Georgia and last faced Romania at Rugby World Cup 2007.
The last time Italy played in Romania was in 2004 and Scotland did so the following year. Neither nation has ever played in Georgia and this ought to be resolved by the IRB. For the purposes of encouraging the development of Georgia rugby and enabling the country to have a path to potentially joining the first tier it needs to have meaningful international competition at home and away.
Ireland is set to host Georgia later this year in the first ever November international for the Lelos away from Georgia and both Scotland and Italy should be encouraged to not only replicate this in future years but to also play tests in Tbilisi. Similar to Italy, Scotland has played recent test matches in Tier Two nations including Fiji and Samoa in 2012 and the upcoming tests against Canada and the USA at the end of the current Northern Hemisphere club season.
With Scotland to have a ranking of 75.16 points it is to be closer to Georgia in the rankings than it will be to England, France, Ireland or Wales. It nonetheless will play in the 2015 Six Nations as will Italy which is virtually just as far behind Samoa as it is ahead of the 18th ranked USA. The rankings, indeed, strongly support the claim that Georgia is in great need of altered international competition and it ought to be members of the Six Nations who take action.
Before Italy joined the Five Nations to form the Six Nations championship in 2000 it enjoyed regular international competition against the same countries it now faces every year. Italy faced members of the Five nations both home and away on a regular basis. Between March 1991 and August 1999 Italy played five tests against Wales, four against England, three against Scotland, and eight against France. Transition to the Six Nations was therefore simplified and with Italy winning official tests against Scotland and Ireland the case for Italy joining was very strong.
Since joining the Six Nations, however, matches against other European sides have decreased to now become non-existent outside of Rugby World Cups. This has contributed significantly to Italy´s IRB World Ranking as Italy plays no fewer than seven Tier One nations per year. Were Italy to face the likes of Georgia and Romania every year then it would gain IRB rankings points and likely be several places higher. It would also have a notably better ratio of wins to losses.
Global rugby needs Italy and Scotland in the Six Nations but it also needs something done to accommodate Georgia. Altering the Six Nations format is the long term goal for supporters of Georgia but the time it would take to occur is too long for this to be the desired path of action. The policy in regards to Italy and Scotland not playing Georgia urgently requires addressing. The IRB ought to have both nations play tests in Tbilisi before Rugby World Cup 2015.