Applying The Bonus Points System To Previous Six Nations Championships

With this year’s Six Nations now in full swing, we thought we’d look at how the controversial addition of the bonus points system would have affected the standings had it been in effect from 2000 (when Italy joined the competition).

The idea behind the bonus points system, which has been used in the Aviva Premiership since 2000/2001, is that it will encourage and reward try scoring and attacking play. The bonus points on offer promises to change the dynamic of the tournament, with teams now still capable of picking up points even in defeat. Four points will now be awarded for a straightforward win, rather than two, and teams will receive a bonus point if they score four or more tries during a match. This bonus point for four or more tries scored can be awarded to both winning and losing sides. A further bonus point will be on offer to a team in defeat if they lose by seven points or fewer. Finally, an additional three points will be awarded to a team if they win the Grand Slam, in order to avoid the pitfall of winning every match but losing the championship to a team with more bonus points.

Taking all this into consideration, we applied this new system to all Six Nations tournaments dating back to the introduction of Italy in 2000, to see the effect it could have had in previous years. Firstly, we look at the table from the 2015 Six Nations Championship, one of the most exciting events in recent history:

  • 2015 saw a thrilling finale as England, Ireland and Wales went into Super Saturday all with a realistic chance of winning the Six Nations as they were only separated by points difference. Ireland came out on top with England and Wales placing in second and third respectively. If the bonus points had been added in 2015, surprisingly, there is no change in the final standings – the top three teams would have still been separated by points difference.

Now let’s take a look at the occasions where there would have been a shift in the overall standings:

  • In 2013, the bonus points would have seen England take the top spot away from Wales and prevent them from winning the tournament for two years on the trot.
  • This single bonus point England received was from scoring four tries against Scotland – enough to have given them the championship.

  • In 2009, the application of the bonus points would have seen a mid-table swap, with Wales overtaking France courtesy of the three bonus points they hypothetically would have earned.
  • Ireland would have received an additional three bonus points for winning the Grand Slam.

  • Another year which shows the impact that the introduction of bonus points could have is the 2007 Championship. Similar to 2014 and 2015, three teams went into the final weekend with the chance to claim victory.
  • After England lost to Wales and Ireland beat Italy by 27 points, the French were crowned champions based on points difference after their 46-19 win over Scotland. However, if the bonus points had been on offer that year, Ireland would have claimed the title by receiving one extra bonus point than the French.

Finally, we’ve added up all the bonus points that each of the six teams would have accumulated since 2000 (up to and including 2016 but not week one of 2017). This includes the three additional points that Grand Slam winners receive:

  • England would have been the most successful overall, amassing 51 bonus points.
  • Looking deeper into the numbers, Ireland would have received at least one bonus point in every iteration of the Six Nations – the only team to do so.
  • The most bonus points awarded would have been the six to Grand-Slam winning England in 2003.

There are arguments for and against the inclusion of a bonus points system in the Six Nations, with its use in future years largely depending on the success of this year’s tournament, and whether it really will encourage bravery and more attacking play.

After the first weekend of action, Ireland and France both picked up a bonus point on account of their narrow losses to Scotland and England respectively, but will bonus points have an impact on the overall standings? Our analysis shows that there are just three occasions in the history of the Six Nations where bonus points would have resulted in a change in the final standings, although on two of those occasions, a different team would have been crowned champions.