Six Nations debate: Have bonus points been a success?

When the 2018 Six Nations draws to a close on Saturday we will have witnessed two full championships since the introduction of bonus points.

Brought in to encourage attacking play and tries, as well as bring the Six Nations in line with other top-flight tournaments, the system is here to stay.

But has it improved the championship? Tom Hamilton and Martyn Thomas discuss whether or not bonus points have been a success.


Tom Hamilton, UK Reporter

Before the start of this year's Six Nations, the tournament's boss John Feehan was stood in salubrious surroundings, pondering the arguments for and against bonus points. He said it is "very hard to give empirical evidence that it is better", but added "it certainly didn't take away" from any enjoyment in 2017. It is subjective, an aesthetic argument.

As Ireland secured the bonus point against Scotland on Saturday, the Stade de France press room was awash with number-crunchers, trying to ascertain what England would have to do to pin back Ireland. Bonus points were the buzzwords -- England would have to go out and hammer France, get a host of points in the process and get the four tries.

Before the match Eddie Jones said they were not on his mind; similarly Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson were pointing toward prioritising the victory before then looking into securing the additional point. As it transpired England collapsed, the bonus point metrics and ponderings would wait for another year. But they are a natural progression, another part of the tournament's tapestry.

The detractors point back to that memorable Super Saturday in 2015 where all rugby rhyme, reason and logic was thrown to the wind with wonderful displays of attacking rugby. We had all that without the promise of additional points for the four tries. But bonus points, had they featured, would not have changed the outcome one bit. Nor would they have changed the 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 or now, 2018 outcomes. Instead the benefit is seen in tries scored. Back in 2013 just 37 tries were scored -- it was attritional, up-the-jumper rugby. With bonus points now a feature, there are 4.2 tries per game in this year's Six Nations, up from 3.7 last year and a world away from those days of two per Test in 2013. Teams are encouraged to attack, Italy are playing with more wonderful abandon than they ever have.

Whether the introduction of bonus points has encouraged teams to attack or if it is just a natural part of rugby's evolution is known to the sport's cognoscenti but unless bonus points have a detrimental effect on the championship -- and they certainly haven't to date -- they should stay.


Martyn Thomas, Rugby Editor

Stats would suggest that the bonus-point system has done its job. There have already been 63 tries scored in this year's championship, and if the final weekend plays out with the same scoring rate then the whitewash will have been crossed 79 times before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

But stats do not always tell the whole story. While the try count is on the up -- 79 tries would be a higher total than in any of the previous six championships, and more than double the 37 scored in 2013 -- can the same be said for the drama?

Had England managed to find a winning score in Paris last weekend, we would still have been denied a title showdown this Saturday at Twickenham because Ireland would have led by an unassailable six points. England's inability to pick up a bonus point in their hard fought win over Wales in week two would have effectively ruled them out of the title race.

That is not to say that the system is without its merits, or should not be used moving forward, it is just an acceptance that the fabric of Six Nations rugby -- in its traditional sense -- is anathema to them.

Not one England fan would have walked away from Twickenham on Feb. 10 cursing Eddie Jones' side for not scoring more than twice. They would have been overjoyed by what was an attritional victory. By the same token few Welsh fans would have been cheered by the fact their side had lost by less than seven points -- they had still been defeated.

Ireland have won this year's title fair and square, and could yet end it with a Grand Slam, but you cannot realistically argue that their win over the Welsh in week three was more deserving than England's a fortnight before just because it featured five tries. Six Nations victories come in many shapes and sizes, but they are all treasured equally.