How d’you solve a problem like Italian rugby?

Which sadly doesn’t quite scan to “how do you solve a problem like Maria?”

For the non-rugby union peeps reading, the 6 Nations is the Northern hemisphere annual international competition. Before 2000, it was the 5 Nations. In 2000, Italy were invited to join England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to make it six.

Before Italy joined, it was a toss-up whether it would be them, Georgia or Romania who would be invited to join (it was one of those rare, three-sided coins). The International Rugby Board (or whatever they’re called this year) may have claimed to have a legitimate reason to choose Italy over the other two, but there was always a distinct hint that it was because the bigwigs would rather spend time in Rome than in Tbilisi or Bucharest.

This wouldn’t be a problem if Italy had done better. Only they haven’t, they’ve finished dead last 12 tournaments out of 18. Because of this, there are once again the regular calls to get rid of Italy and replace them with Georgia, or Romania.

I don’t think that will solve the intrinsic problem. This is not because I don’t think Gorgodzilla and friends won’t be awesome and try hard and compete.

None of those have been Italy’s problem either.

I’m a fan of Italian rugby; my heart was won by the Bergamasco boys, so I am biased. Their problem has never been lack of effort.

Their main problem has been having fewer resources than the other five teams. I don’t just mean money, I mean things like strength in depth of players. There was the famous case when England’s reserve players had more caps than the entire Italian team plus reserves. There’s always been a couple of positions where they’re significantly weaker than the other sides. Which particular position changes, the fact of it doesn’t.

Changing which team is the 6th team in the 6 Nations would not solve this problem. Georgia would have it, Romania would have it, just as much Italy have it now. Kicking Italy out and bolting the door would be a waste of the time, money and effort that have gone into Italian rugby in the past 20 plus years.

That doesn’t mean I want to keep the status quo. Locking out the teams in the European Nations Cup is a really bad idea.

Everyone agrees that there is no way that rugby players on the various national teams can play more games. They’re already the walking injured most of the time.

I’ve been informed that there’s no way that the Six Nations can be made less frequent. It was a suggestion I made only to hear the squeak of protest from certain people.

The most sensible thing would be to have a relegation play off between the team last in the 6 Nations and the team coming top of the European Nations Cup (ENC). Then host the game at the ENC team’s home stadium. This plan has several advantages. It gives the teams in the ENC something to play for. It gives a bit of extra money to help the top ENC team to bridge the gap if not that year then the next if they lose. It also gives whichever team finishes 6th (which isn’t always Italy) a chance to save themselves. A win all round I think.

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