After years of debate about the pros and cons of expanding the Six Nations to welcome a seventh team, tournament organisers have opened the door to a new entrant.
However, much to the disappointment of Georgia and Romania, who have pressed hardest for being members of the northern hemisphere's most prestigious competition, Maro Itoje has been named as the seventh ‘team’.
From 2017, Itoje will break away from England and represent himself. In a mouth watering piece of sporting drama, his first fixture in the revamped tournament is due to be a home match in Camden against his former side.
“Our tournament is the envy of the rugby world,” said Six Nations Chief Executive John Feehan. “We’ve a proud history stretching back to 1883 and today enjoy global television exposure and vast commercial success. But we can’t rest on our laurels.
“This new innovation will give our cherished tournament a new lease of life and help secure its future. It will also ensure we have a new competitor that offers more than Italy currently do.”
Concerns that Itoje will not be able to compete as himself as he has represented England at senior level have been comprehensively rebuffed by organisers.
“Itojo isn’t tied by World Rugby regulations as he isn’t trying to play for another international side,” said Feehan. “He’s playing for himself. It’s cut and dry as far as we are concerned.”
Tournament organisers, aware that Itoje’s inclusions is likely to frustrate Georgia, have promised to soften the blow. Plans have been announced that the Georgian rugby committee will be invited to at least three black tie after match dinners in the coming two seasons.
Maro Itoje trivia and facts:
- Despite only starting 21 games for England and Saracens this season, Itoje has won 32 of them and been man of the match an impressive 38 times.
- Itoje became the first player to play simultaneously for an international and domestic side during the 2016 Six Nations when he represented England and Saracens in two games at precisely the same moment.
- Itoje has been named player of the year for four of the next six English Premiership seasons.
- At least five rugby experts have said (off the record), Itoje could possibly be spoken of one day in the same revered and hushed tones as the likes of Mike Rayer and BIlly Bancroft.