Tommy Bowe believes Ireland will return to the early days of the Joe Schmidt reign following the announcement that a bonus point system will be trialled in the 2017 RBS Six Nations championship.
Ireland scored 16 tries in the 2014 championship, Schmidt’s first tilt at the competition; the highest tally of all teams involved.
However, seven of those came in the 46-7 win over Italy, with nine shared between the other four fixtures — with no single test seeing the required four tries scored to earn a bonus point.
Still, Bowe welcomed the adoption of the system that has been in use in the PRO12, Champions Cup and World Cup competitions, and hoped it would add to the attacking intent on show.
“We’re all so used to it at this stage with the club competitions, so it was the natural step,” Bowe said.
“I think it’s great to be rewarded for going out to try and score tries because as a spectator, which I have been for the last couple of games, you want to see games where teams are being rewarded for tries, that there’s enterprising rugby. That’s a real positive for spectators and players.
“Instead of being content when you’re six points ahead and instead of just being content with that and kicking and taking the easy option, they’re trying to promote more scores, which is what the crowds want to see. The crowds want to see tries, they want to see big scores.
“From my point of view as a winger, I think that promotes good play and trying to play a bit more expansive, which is great.”
Ireland would have won just two bonus points in the 2016 Championship, and just one in 2015, if the bonus system was employed retrospectively, with those coming against the traditionally weaker opposition. But Bowe believes Schmidt’s Ireland is capable of more attacking play, if it will be rewarded.
“We scored 40 points against the All Blacks which was incredible, it shows we can do it,” he said. “I think when Joe came in at the start, we scored more tries than any Irish team had scored in the Six Nations. I would be pretty sure that Ireland will be confident enough with the new changes. The fact that they have come in [means] we’ll go out to score more tries, which will be positive.”
Under the new regime, four match points will be awarded for a win, with an extra point if a side scores four tries or more. Losing teams can collect a bonus point for scoring four tries or by losing by a margin of seven points or less. A country that achieves a Grand Slam will be awarded a further three match points, removing the unlikely possibility of a country with a 100% record not being crowned champions.
Six Nations chairman Pat Whelan says the move has been in the pipeline for some time and is confident it will encourage more attacking play. “We have been looking at the feasibility of a bonus point system for a while and examining what kind of bonus point system would work best, given the unique properties and format of our Championships.
“We are happy that the system that we have decided to trial is the one best suited to our Championships.”
Among those welcoming the move was 2015 World Cup final referee, Welshman Nigel Owens, who tweeted: “Great idea. Have been a supporter of bringing it in for a while. Well done Six Nations.”
Former Scotland international Scott Hastings also welcomed the move. “This will encourage winning habits and sometimes as sports people we take our eye off that,” the former centre told BBC Scotland. “If you are going for that extra bonus point on the last play of the game, it benefits players, spectators and the TV audience.”
Six Nations chief executive John Feehan was conscious that tampering with the points system shouldn’t undermine the drama associated with the final weekend of Six Nations action.
“The drama and excitement of the last weekend of the RBS 6 Nations Championship is unique, and is, more often than not, driven by a number of teams on equal Championship points all competing for first place on the table.
“It is important for us to ensure that any bonus point system which is implemented would not, in any way, take away from this unique dynamic.
“At the same time, we are also conscious that we must reward try-scoring and an attacking style of play that will deliver more tries and greater rewards for fans and players alike.
“We are very excited about the potential that this new development will bring to the Championships, and we look forward to trialling it next February and March.”
Ireland’s 2015 Six Nations victory was sealed in the most remarkable fashion, with three teams all in contention on the final day of the season.
Bowe doesn’t think the new system will make a repeat and more or less likely. “I think that was a one-off really. The Six Nations, because there’s such parity between a lot of team, it also proves to be a very close competition.
“I think personally, the competition doesn’t need a whole pile more. It’s always a very closely fought competition. Certainly when it came down to it two years ago, when we won the Six Nations, it came down to those three games.
“One of three teams that day could have won it and I don’t think you can get much more dramatic than that. Whether with this bonus point system that it will ever get to that stage again, or maybe there might be more of an opportunity for that way to work, I’m not too sure.
“Certainly from a spectator’s point of view, if you’re a neutral or even if you’re an Ireland fan, that day couldn’t get much more.
“I think people who maybe wanted to watch the first game of rugby, didn’t leave the pub for the rest of the day because they were three awesome matches.”
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