The last remaining bastion of the amateur era’s traditions looks set to fall.
According to a report in The Observer the Six Nations countries are considering finally joining the world-wide trend of awarding bonus points to the competition.
The Six Nations remains the only competition in Rugby Union that does not have a bonus-points system.
A consultation paper has been prepared for the six countries to consider, bringing the venerable competition into line with the Southern Hemisphere’s Rugby Championship and World Cup in having bonus points for scoring four tries or losing by a margin of seven points or less.
The Six Nations has consistently rejected proposals to fall in line with the rest of the world, arguing the amateur history and success of the tournament meant change was not necessary.
According to The Observer England are among the unions who believe the subject should be properly debated.
Under the current system, teams get two points for a win and one for a draw. Sides who are level on points are separated by points difference, itself a relatively recent innovation: in the amateur era the championship would be shared if there was no outright winner.
A bonus system, which doubles the value of a win and a draw, reduces the chances of teams finishing level on points, although it would not have split Ireland and France last season as both would have claimed three bonus points. The difference it would have made in 2011 is more profound: Italy would have been bottom on ‘points obtained’ rather than points difference.
One argument that has been used in the past against bonus points for the Six Nations is that it would make it mathematically possible for a team that won the grand slam to finish second in the table if they did not secure any bonus points and their main rival had a full house.
And a side that was whitewashed would not finish bottom if it picked up five losing bonus points and the team above it only had one victory and no bonus points.
“We have resisted the change for the past 10 years, but there is pressure to join the mainstream, not least from commercial partners, because it would potentially increase permutations in the table at the end of the season,” said an RFU member, “but the bottom line is that it is the system that people have become used to.”