It would be hard to think of a more ill-conceived muddle-headed idea than South Africa being randomly parachuted into the Six Nations.
It would leave Italy — and other aspiring European nations — banished to the wilderness. I shake my head yet again at rugby’s total inability to manage its affairs properly and promote growth and development.
Rugby union is light years behind where it should be and a good deal of that can be placed at the Six Nations’ door.
Sir Clive Woodward is against the idea of adding South Africa to the Six Nations (Faf de Klerk pictured celebrating against Wales)
It is a great tournament for those lucky enough to be involved but it is invitation-only and has selfishly stifled European rugby for the best part of a century. It is why rugby is only a middling, niche sport worldwide compared to many others.
I have many objections to the notion of South Africa joining the Six Nations but top of my list is that there is a much better alternative crying out to be adopted. I totally accept that the Six Nations could do with some tweaks but there are infinitely better options. The Six Nations need to open their eyes and not be blindsided by the alleged promises of extra revenue.
CVC Capital Partners have become involved in the sport for one reason: to make money — for them, not the rugby community.
They are not a charity. They have rightly identified that rugby is disastrously run and is well below its potential. So I give them credit for that but, like any venture capitalist, they want a system that works best for them.
Who will be benefiting from such a radical change to the Six Nations? Unions or investors; individuals, executives or the grassroots game?
Europe should be the sport’s powerhouse but the Six Nations has always been an elite, members-only club, deliberately divorced from the world game.
Historically, they blocked France, then let them in, expelled them and let them in again. They ignored Italy and Romania when they were strong, then belatedly let in Italy when their golden generation was running on empty.
Six Nations has stifled European rugby with teams like Georgia (pictured) not invited
In recent years they have disastrously stalled Georgian rugby. The Lelos have been left with nowhere to go and no way of bettering themselves. They have been in limbo for years when they should be in the fast lane. I can see the Georgians running out of steam unless we give them hope.
Yet there is so much potential. I was watching the Rugby Europe championships over the weekend and Spain and Portugal have some cracking players who deserve to be seen by a bigger audience.
Spain reached the final stages of the 1999 World Cup and Portugal qualified for the 2007 tournament, but both have been left to wither on the vine.
Their potential alarmed the Six Nations because when push comes to shove, they serve only themselves and are not interested in rugby’s development or democracy. Rugby in Europe is 50 years behind where it should be. Europe should boast nine or 10 top nations and places like Madrid, Barcelona, Tbilisi, Lisbon, San Sebastian, Porto and Bucharest should be well-established venues and hotbeds.
That is where the long-term future of the Six Nations lies. A brilliant top division, fed by a flourishing, vibrant second division with promotion and relegation. All to be administered under one umbrella, one unified pyramid of excellence. What is the plausible objection to that?
World Rugby — the sport’s non-governing body — stands by helplessly. They are not in control as the Six Nations hold all the power. World Rugby govern all the European Nations Leagues, which all have promotion and relegation, but you cannot be promoted to the Six Nations. If habitual winners Georgia have a bad season they will be relegated. They play with jeopardy but no reward. That is unfair.
Teams like Portugal (pictured) and Spain have players who deserve to be seen by a wider audience
The Six Nations, with their three votes to every other nation’s one, control the sport to an unhealthy and undemocratic degree and the good governance report newly elected chairman Bill Beaumont commissioned has done nothing to alter that.
The Six Nations have effectively been holding European rugby to ransom for way too long and it is damaging the game. We should be making the sport bigger, not smaller, more inclusive, not exclusive. But none of that suits the elite who seek to maintain an iron grip on the game.
It is too trite to say that Georgia might struggle if they come up and Spain, Portugal and Romania — where my old mate Andy Robinson is doing good work — are not ready yet. Yes, they might find the transition tricky but these teams will never be ready unless they are allowed to improve.
What exactly are the Six Nations frightened of? If there was an annual relegation/promotion play-off, the likelihood is it would regularly be an Italy v Georgia fixture. What an event that could be and it would add a new dimension to the tournament.
Italy could improve looking to the future and their Under 20s recently beat England
But say Italy start improving — their Under 20s beat England last Friday — and they don’t finish bottom one year? Are the other five nations really so terrified of a play-off against Georgia or one of the other nations? If they are not good enough to win, they deserve to be relegated. It might be just the jolt their game requires.
All sorts of other thoughts come to mind. Are South Africa really prepared to ditch New Zealand and Australia — and indeed Argentina? Nobody has helped Pumas rugby more than South Africa. Doesn’t that old friendship count for something? I will be absolutely staggered if such a split didn’t cause huge, needless repercussions worldwide.
And why now? The Springboks have the potential of a six-team tournament, including the four Rugby Championship teams plus Japan and the pre-eminent Pacific island team, probably Fiji. Surely that is a better way forward than artificially parachuting into the Six Nations, which would have such a detrimental effect.
So get back to the drawing board. It is time for a serious talk about this as there are so many better options. Rugby needs to stop prostrating itself in front of the money men and put the game first.