Six Nations 2024: Italy's Rugby Challenge and the Call for Expansion

Updated: 157 Rugby Union

Italy's performance in Six Nations 2024 ignites discussions on competitive dynamics and the potential benefits of expanding the tournament.

Six Nations 2024: Italy's Rugby Challenge and the Call for Expansion
Luke Bradshaw Lee Commercial Content Manager

Experienced journalist and editor covering multiple aspects within the online sports and casino industry, NFL and Rugby Specialist

The Six Nations 2024 has reignited the conversation around Italy's place in the tournament. Despite a narrow defeat to England, questions about Italy's role and the idea of expanding the tournament to include more teams are hot topics. This article delves into Italy's history within the Six Nations, their struggle for wins, and explores how adding teams like South Africa and Georgia could reshape the future of international rugby.

Italy in Six Nations: Time for a Change?

🏉🇮🇹 Italy's close call against England in #SixNations2024 opens up debate! Is it time to expand the tournament? 🤔 Read about Italy's journey and what expansion could mean for rugby's future.

The Six Nations – How To Solve A Problem Like Italy

As the 2024 edition of the Six Nations gets underway, the age-old question regarding Italy has once again come to the fore. Admittedly they did push England rather close in the first weekend of fixtures, but the end result was ultimately the same.

A 27-24 loss on home soil should be commended but at the same time for those aiming to fly the flag for Italian rugby and say the competitive gap is finally closing, the counterpoint could just as easily be a misfiring England side in opposition.

🇮🇹 The Six Nations Saga: Italy's Fight Against the Odds!

🏉 As the Six Nations 2024 kicks off, Italy's rugby journey is under the spotlight once again! Despite a valiant effort against England with a close 27-24 loss, questions linger: Can Italy bridge the competitive gap, or is change needed? 🇮🇹💪 Read our full analysis on Italy's quest to shake off the wooden spoon legacy.

Another defeat for the Italians and their annual quest to pass the wooden spoon on to somebody else has begun in earnest and with the team and this piece of cutlery having a rather symbiotic relationship, one wonders if it needs breaking once and for all.

Italy Coach Gonzalo Quesada
By Fanny Schertzer - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35088095

Especially as the expansion from Five to Six Nations has not necessarily been a successful one, yes you could argue that interest in the tournament has increased but all it has seemingly done is introduce a whipping boy into proceedings.

With Italy joining the fray in 2000, it heralded a new era for international rugby within Europe and for all the excitement that came with a new entrant at the turn of the millennium, that excitement has somewhat dissipated over the years.

The reason for this dissipation is that Italy have a habit of propping up the other five entrants and in the 24 complete editions (2000 to 2023), this is how they have fared each year: 

Year Pos W D L PF PA PD
2000 6th 1 0 4 106 228 -122
2001 6th 0 0 5 106 207 -101
2002 6th 0 0 5 70 183 -113
2003 5th 1 0 4 100 185 -85
2004 5th 1 0 4 42 152 -110
2005 6th 0 0 5 55 179 -124
2006 6th 0 1 4 72 125 -53
2007 4th 2 0 3 94 147 -53
2008 6th 1 0 4 74 131 -57
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Of the 120 matches that Italy have contested between 2000 and 2023, they have won just 13 with an additional draw to go alongside it. This means that 106 have ended in defeat, in percentage terms this is as high as 88.3%. 

Just 13 memorable moments for the Italian rugby fanbase to cherish since 2000, seven of those have come at the expense of Scotland. More than the French, Irish and Welsh combined with two, one and three respectively.

While England have the honour of never being beaten by the Italians at the Six Nations and this is displayed in the annual results table below: 

Year FRA ENG IRL WAL SCO
2000 L L L L W
2001 L L L L L
2002 L L L L L
2003 L L L W L
2004 L L L L W
2005 L L L L L
2006 L L L D L
2007 L L L W W
2008 L L L L W
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Nearly nine in ten matches see Italy on the wrong side of the scoreline and if you averaged all their points for and against, the scoreline would be a 14-34 loss. Little for them to write home about and even more so when we look at where they have finished each year: 

Place Count
4th 2
5th 4
6th 18
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18 of their 24 completed Six Nations pursuits have finished with Italy finishing last – three quarters of all previous attempts. The high watermark of success being in both 2007 and 2013 where the Italians managed to upset the ranks and finished fourth in each year.

The only other years where they have avoided last place was when they finished fifth on four separate occasions. 2003, 2004, 2012 and 2015 being the years where an element of further respectability was added to the board.

75% of all Six Nations attempts have seen Italy with the wooden spoon in their hands by the end of it. Is that a figure that is far too high and ultimately how do you fix a problem like this going forward? More importantly can you fix a problem such as this? 

Ultimately it all depends on your definition of the problem, in terms of broadcasting there is no problem regarding Italy’s continual participation and this is reflected in the 2023 viewing figures below: 

Match UK Channel Viewing Figures (Millions)
Wales vs Ireland BBC 2.91
England vs Scotland ITV 4.54
Scotland vs Wales BBC 3.52
England vs Italy ITV 3.59
Wales vs England ITV 4.36
Scotland vs Ireland BBC 3.33
Ireland vs England ITV 4.57
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In this sample of 2023 matches, you can see that the games of both BBC1 and ITV1 have seen no less than 2.91m viewers per game, with England’s matches against Ireland and Scotland doing the heavy lifting at just over 4.5m in each.

Even when looking at the 2023 clash between England and Italy, the viewing figures only dropped down to just over 3.5m, highlighting that from a broadcasting sense rugby fans are not turning away in their droves.

Not only that but the package of rights that were sold to these two broadcasters for the 2022 to 2025 rights cycle is worth £100m a year and with the two main British channels prepared to stump up this money to avoid it going behind a paywall, they must believe they are getting value for money.

They may be getting value you for money but are the BBC and ITV getting enough and with the next rights cycle soon to be up for grabs, there is always the fear that the likes of Amazon, Sky or TNT will look to get in on the action.

📺🏉 Six Nations Viewership Soars: A Win for BBC & ITV!

📊 2023's Six Nations matches are pulling in the crowds - averaging 2.91m viewers on BBC1 & ITV1, with England's games topping 4.5m! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿🍀🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Even the England vs Italy match held strong at 3.5m views. With a £100m rights deal, are we seeing enough return before the next bidding war begins? 💷🤔

Which means one of two things, it either drives the price up in a bidding war and the current status quo have to pay more for what they already have or it goes on to another platform and interest in the competition begins to wane because of the paywall it is now behind.

If the broadcasters believe they are happy with the product that they are paying for and the money that they are paying to get their hands, they themselves are not going to be clamouring for Italy to be sent packing out of the competition but is that view shared by those who watch the game?

🏉 Six Nations' Future: Italy's Challenge & Tournament Evolution

🇮🇹 Italy faces a tough road in Six Nations, finishing last in 75% of tournaments. But what's next for this iconic competition? Is the name a limit, or can it evolve? 🤔💡 Let's dive into the future possibilities and Italy's journey ahead

With the Six Nations being the format that it is, somebody always has to finish last. Unfortunately for Italy, it happens to be them on 75% of the previous tournaments and with the strength of the other five competitors, that figure is unlikely to be seriously eroded over the next decade or so.

But what will the Six Nations look like in the next decade, is it a competition that is hamstrung by its name? On the one hand it is, on the other hand it is not. First we will look at how it is hamstrung and that is the fact that ultimately the Six Nations must have six entrants.

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Therefore, any expansion plan would need a change name and a change of brand. Would a Seven Nations be too big? That depends on who that seventh nation would be and with South African club teams already playing in the United Rugby Championship, the Springboks could be a perfect addition.

Admittedly South Africa is a long way away from Europe but perhaps more importantly it is in the same time zone and from a broadcasting point of view, this would only enhance proceedings without having awkwardly scheduled Seven Nations matches.

With the experience of South Africa versus European clubs already established, the integration would be rather seamless, the only real problem is whether the competition size would then become too bloated within an already packed rugby calendar.

🌍 Expanding Horizons: The Debate for Seven or Eight Nations 🏉

Is it time for a #SevenNations or even Eight Nations? 🤔 South Africa & Georgia are prime candidates, offering seamless integration & exciting prospects! But will it overfill the rugby calendar? 🏆🕒 Let's explore the possibilities and challenges of expanding the beloved tournament

The current beauty of the Six Nations is that there are no teams kicking their heels within the five game weekend. With an additional seventh nation, it then becomes six game weekends and one team being inactive each time around.

Of course, there could be another way around this and if you are going to seven nations, you may as well go to Eight and with Georgia more than holding their own in the Rugby World Cup not to mention winning the second tier European Championship, they have their own strong case to enter.

If it were to be eight nations involved, the format of the competition would arguably have to change from the existing round robin that is in place. For an eight-team tournament to work, two pools of four would need to be in place before an additional set of ranking matches.

For example, the top two in each pool would move on to the semi-finals, finals and 3rd/4th playoff, the bottom two would move on to a playoff format to eventually decide who finishes in the remaining five places (following the same format at the championship route).

Could the 6 nations be extended to further teams? Even outside of Europe?

This would mean the same number of competitive matches for each nation that currently exist in the Six Nations but matches would arguably have a bit more needle in them, especially when there would be an outright winner at the end of each year.

Because one of the slight criticisms regarding the current round robin format is that although a league setup rewards consistency over the five weeks of fixtures, it also can boil down to an exercise in who can beat Italy by the highest score.

Admittedly, this has been lessened by the awarding of additional bonus points but if say France, England and Ireland win the same number of Six Nations matches in a year and there is a three-way tussle at the top, a heavy victory over Italy may be the deciding factor in who wins outright.

Therefore, with a pool stage and finals setup, the race for points would come to an end and a genuine victor could be crowned each year. A format that provides even more value for broadcasters, but it does come at a slight cost.

With a pool format in place, not every team would play everyone as they do now. For example, the annual Calcutta Cup clash between England and Scotland may not go ahead due to the two nations being placed in opposite pools.

One that the purists would not take to kindly to but maybe it is the purists that are holding progress back. With no format change since 2000, there is a sense that the Six Nations needs to evolve to stay front and centre in a crowded sporting landscape.

🏉 A New Chapter: Italy's Rise in the Proposed Eight Nations 🌟

Imagine Eight Nations with South Africa & Georgia joining the fray! 🇿🇦🇬🇪 This expansion could be a game-changer for Italy 🇮🇹, offering new competitive edges & enhancing tournament quality. More thrilling matches mean more viewers and higher broadcast fees! 📈👀

The addition of South Africa and Georgia to make it the Eight Nations would not only aid the evolution but also give Italy a chance at being competitive as wins could be picked up against the former Soviet republic.

A few wins there and momentum starts to build, then Italy may be able to mix up with their traditional counterparts on a far more regular basis. If that is the case, the quality of this newly enlarged tournament only increases further.

Better quality = more eyes on the product

More eyes on the product = higher broadcasting fees

Therefore, the question regarding Italy in the Six Nations is answered by not getting rid of them but by adding two more nations to the party each year.

Author Information

Crafted by our Data Scientist Dan Tracey and Rugby Expert Luke Bradshaw Lee

Luke Bradshaw Lee

Luke Bradshaw Lee

Commercial content manager

Luke has been in the sports industry as a journalist since 2008, writing and editing for publications such as The Guardian, The Independent, Eurosport and Yahoo Sport, among others. Today he specialises within the betting industry, working across multiple sports.

👨‍🏫 Specialist Subjects🔬📚

💰Having visited and reviewed hundreds of online sports betting sites and online casinos, Luke manages all of our review content, drawing on all of our in-house experts for their views on the various sports covered by bookmakers and slots and games in casinos. As well as managing all the data collected to provide bookmaker recommendations based on individual sporting interests.

🏈 Luke is a more than keen follower of the NFL taking in as many games as he can over the weekend and always trying to attend the London NFL games each year. American football remains his main personal betting focus and he creates and contributes to our NFL Articles

🏉 The obsession with funny-shaped balls continues as a big fan of both codes of Rugby, once again finding his betting angles in Rugby League with a deep knowledge of Rugby Union and its history. 

Dan Tracey

Dan Tracey

Data scientist and football editor

Dan Tracey is a multi-talented writer, data analyst and podcaster whose six-year career in the sports data sphere has seen incredible successes. From helping UEFA create their annual technical reports to writing articles for Sports Betting Websites including sites like TheLinesUS and Goal - there's no shortage of areas where his expertise shines through! In addition, he can be heard on podcasts lending an insightful voice as well as providing weekly betting angles - all culminating with him teaming up OLBG.com in the present day. Simply put: wherever you find angled data being crunched? You'll also likely find Dan not far behind!

👨‍🏫 Specialist Subjects🔬📚

Dan's specialist area is data; and lots of it! Wherever we need numbers to create our unique deep dive articles, Dan is our go-to. Dan is also a Tottenham Fan and a football commentator for Newcastle Blue Star

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