Georgia in the 6Nations, this is how it could easily work with a minimum of fuzz. Let’s face it – despite very honorable achievements, the aim to upgrade Georgia by inclusion into the 6Nations is facing the major impediment that another participant would have to be relegated. On a meritocratic basis this could every now and then hit a traditional nation. And the consequences would be devastating even despite a financial parachute for a year (like proposed by Stephen Jones.)
Inherent to a format of six participants is that each contestant plays the uneven number of five games. That creates a road-trip-year and a home-game-year alternating. A sustainable concept for promotion and relegation had to acknowledge that. The only way to do that would create a two year circle so that a relegated team had the full circle of all five home games before going down. Rather than just two. So being a level lower would be fair, but much harder to take. Relegation simply is a mine field.
Therefore a novel 7Nations is needed. There would be an alternative to just one more game and one more weekend for all participants: A two tier structure in which the three top placed team would be „spared“ to a certain degree. Or focused.
The promoted participant and the three bottom placed teams would play a tournament amongst themselves with three games each. So would the three top ones (amongst themselves, two games each, mostly at the same time as the lower ones.)
In a seamless second stage, the best two teams from the lower section would play the three top teams. The remaining two from the lower section would play a return game. This could settle relegation if the new format should have that flexibility. To determine the tournament winner, the five games from the initial phase with participation of the eventual bottom two teams would not count.
The sacrifice of one game less for, say Ireland or England at the top level, could very satisfyingly be made up for by a preparatory friendly against opponents like Russia, Japan, or from the Pacific Nations. This would be reminiscent of the 5Nations. Then the resting teams used to play Italy to avoid getting rusty by not playing for a whole four weeks.
Result: An international season for seven nations, in which five would play four games (that count) and two would play six, all with an equal amount of home and away fixtures. It would still be a weekend longer overall, but individually only two participants would play more than before. Only two play a game more as opposed to all six if Georgia would be added to a full-blown round robin competition.
If dilution of quality is an impediment to rewarding a worthy aspirant like Georgia – this is addressed here. For fans and journalists of a constant top team it looks distant of having to travel to Georgia.
The most meaningful part of the competition would be more tight. From the perspective of the top three nations, the change seems very minor, the result even more straight forward.
The whole placing in the table would have a much enhanced meaning (“get in the top three, young men,” “don’t drop to bottom two.”) The question of regular promotion and relegation could be postponed for perhaps five years or more. Not to rush Georgia to fully make the grade. But also to wait and see and have a stick if that state of the game would deteriorate for good in one country.
Applying alternatively those principles to design an 8Nations tournament would make annual or biennial relegation and promotion of one nation much more palatable. Whoever has to be felt threatened by relegation, would have the larger buffer of two newbies (only one of which to leave behind for safety.) But on that scale, schedules shorter then a full round robin competition would result in doable, but less rounded concepts.