Six Nations bonus-point system: A gimmick or overdue modernising?
When the Six Nations committee decided to introduce a bonus-point system for the 2017 championship you could almost hear the contrasting reactions in rugby heartlands in Britain and Ireland.
There are those who will argue to kingdom come that the Six Nations is fine as it is, that it has its own identity and doesn't need to go down the road of being tricked up. What next? Kiss-cams. Mexican waves. Pitch-side microphone-wielding fun police ordering everybody to 'MAKE SOME NOISE!' Too late, alas. Too late.
Those who are against bonus points for extra scores see it is a gimmick that will do nothing to enhance a tournament that doesn't need a whole lot of enhancing in the first place.
Apply a retrospective bonus-point system and would it have changed the finishing order in 2016? No. How about 2015, 2014? No, no. Are there not enough tries in the Six Nations already? Not as many as its southern hemisphere counterpart, the Rugby Championship, but enough to satisfy the vast crowds who always turn up to watch it?
The average try count per match in the 2016 Six Nations was 4.73. In the Rugby Championship it was 5.83. The season before it was 4.13 in the north and 5.5 in the south. The season before that, 4.07 in the Six Nations and 4.17 in the Rugby Championship.
It's not as big a gulf as people might think. In any event, Six Nations rugby is not Rugby Championship rugby. It has its own heartbeat. Oftentimes, it's rugby in the trenches. Full Metal Jacket stuff. It's not as easy on the eye as the New Zealands and the Australias, but it works. And fans adore it.
In the southern hemisphere's four-nation tournament, yes, there are more tries, but does that necessarily make it better, more intoxicating? Across a difficult four-year period in economic terms, Six Nations crowds have gone from an average of 69,531 to 68,968, a drop of less than 1%. That's good going in the climate. The Rugby Championship's crowds are down close to 12%.
The opposing, pro-change view is that the Six Nations has become a bit tired and is in need of modernising. The Rugby Championship, the Champions Cup, the Premiership in England, the Pro12, the Top 14 in France and Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere all have the bonus-point system.
In the Six Nations there is a view that the premium is on defence over attack. That argument can be overblown, but there's truth in it, too. Those who are supportive of the new bonus-point system see a vision of the future that will have a nation busting a gut to turn three tries into four in the latter stages of a Test, just to secure that extra point.
Cue more attacking intent and more entertainment. That's the wish. For example, in the 2015 Six Nations, had England scored four tries against Scotland - and got a bonus point - instead of three they might have won the championship. The winners, Ireland, could apply the same logic to one of their games, of course. So could Wales.
In 2014, had England added to their two first-half tries in their victory against Wales with another two in the second half they might have won that championship, too. They didn't. Ireland did - and it was hard-won and richly deserved.
The final Saturday of both of those Six Nations were thrill-fests. Ireland secured the title with a hugely dramatic victory in Paris in 2014 and they won it again in 2015 with that most incredible trilogy where tries cascaded down on Ireland in Scotland, Wales in Italy and England against France.
Three nations were in a mad-dash for the winning line. It was an utterly brilliant day, so why would you want to mess with the dynamic?
There is no harm in tinkering. Experimentation is to be applauded, just as long as there's an open mind and that if bonus points are not seen to be working then they're put in the bin and the Six Nations is restored to its old, flawed, but thoroughly loveable self.