Team Responses to Changed Incentives: Evidence from Rugby’s Six Nations Championship

Vincent Hogan and Patrick Massey

This paper analyzes teams’ responses to rule changes designed to encourage more entertaining play in Rugby Union’s Six Nations Championship using a data set of all scores in the competition since its inception in 1883. We find that increasing the value of scoring a try leads to more tries per match, and that this effect increases over time. We also find evidence that teams may be prepared to concede penalties, which are worth fewer points in order to prevent more costly tries. The switch to a winner-take-all format in 1994 and the introduction of professionalism in 1995 also led to more tries being scored. Unlike most major rugby competitions, the Six Nations does not award bonus league points for scoring a certain number of tries, and our results suggest that introducing bonus points may merit further consideration. Our results may have practical applications, given ongoing concerns about a decline in try scoring in the Six Nations.