After the thrilling last day of the Six Nations that occurred two weeks ago, it is no wonder the discussion has arisen on how to recreate this all the time. It was one of the best days of sport I have ever witnessed and that would have still been true even if Ireland had not won the championship. The main idea put forward is the introduction of the bonus point system. It’s commonly used throughout rugby and the Six Nations remains as one of the few competitions that does not have some version. In these two articles I want to try and explore the impact that the bonus point would have on the six nations by looking at recent history and looking at how the bonus point affected other competitions when it was introduced.
The first thing I am going to look at is how the bonus point would change the championship in recent years. I am using the most common format used in the world cup, Rugby Championship, Pro12 and more. That is four points for a win, 2 for a draw, 1 point for four or more tries and 1 for losing by 7 or less points. This is not an exact science as the overall mindset will change when there are bonus points available. I looked at the last six championships and nearly every year had at least one game where a team had three tries and would probably push for a fourth. Similarly teams would have taken the penalty or drop goal when down by 9 to at least secure one point. So keep that in mind during the analysis, everything is just speculation.
So the first thing to look at is how would the 2015 Championship have changed. The answer, it would have been very similar. France would have been a bit closer to a potential win, being only 3 points behind. But Ireland, England and Wales would all be competing the same as before. Scotland while still finishing bottom had a better reflection of their championship picking up three losing bonuses from the 5 matches.
Similarly the 2014 championship would not have changed that much. Ireland actually had more room on the last day with an extra bonus point over England, picked up in the loss to them. France needed a bonus point win on the last day to have a chance at winning overall.
2013 is where things get interesting. England lost on points difference to Wales. Wales beat them on the last day to win the Six Nations. However if bonus points were in play (and circumstances were the same), England would have won by a single bonus. On the last day they would have been 5 ahead though so Wales would have known that they needed a bonus point win. Ireland’s 3 points also would have changed into 9 points by collecting 3 bonuses along the way.
2012 also presents an interesting scenario and one that is very important to my findings. In 2012 Wales won a grand slam by beating France on the final day. If Wales lost England could have won by outscoring Ireland by a large margin increasing their points difference. If bonus points are introduced to this scenario there are 4 possible winners on the last day. France and Ireland were both just playing for the win but now suddenly, they have a chance to win it all. If France were to beat Wales and get a bonus point or outscore them enough, they would win. If Wales lost to France and Ireland won the game with a bonus or had a higher point difference than France, Ireland would win. Suddenly this final day has a lot of similarities to the 2015 final day.
The next two years present similar enough scenarios as before. So how many bonus points were awarded in the six years. It turns out there were a lot more losing bonus points than try bonus points. 2015 managed to reach 5 try bonuses but 4 of those were awarded in the final day. But out of the 15 games in a championship 6.5 games got losing bonus points over the last 6 years. Close to half the games were decided by 7 or less points. For me this is a much more valuable statistic. I will discuss it more in part two but I feel the introduction of the Try Bonus will lead to a “who can beat Italy the best” attitude. When it comes to England vs Ireland, neither team is worried about scoring four tries before winning the game.
But having said that, I am not opposed to the bonus point. I am in favour of the indirect effect it has on the excitement of the game. Sure some games will get an extra try than before but the real effect it has is keeping teams closer. What made the last day of the 2015 Championship so exciting? The fact that 4 four teams could have won the championship and that they needed big scores to do so. The chart below shows going into the last day how many teams could have won the Six Nations on the last day. Four teams is not common and a little scheduling luck led to that scenario. But looking at 2012 from earlier, two extra teams were given a chance at winning, if the right scenarios arose. Of course 2013 lost a team by having a bonus, so it does not always work. But I think the introduction of the bonus will keep the championship closer in the later stages meaning there is more to play for and the losing bonus has a big impact on this.
A comparison can be drawn to the NHL in this case. In ice hockey there are two points for a win and one point for an over time loss. I read an article this morning on fivethiryeight that NHL teams are not trying to win games if it is tied near the end so that they can guarantee themselves at least one point in the match. So immediately this seems like a bad thing. So why do the NHL love it? Because it keeps the teams closer for longer in the season. The playoff race is kept close by teams grabbing those extra points throughout the season. Those single points stop teams pulling away from the others too quickly.
So is the bonus point the correct way of introducing excitement into the Six Nations? Will it bring about more tries and exciting rugby? Will it even make a difference? I don’t know the answers but I will look at the impact on try scoring in the part 2 and try to find some.