The Six Nations Championship (referred to as RBS 6 Nations for sponsorship reasons), known before 2000 as the Five Nations Championship, is an annual international rugby union competition involving six European sides: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The winner of the RBS 6 Nations is sometimes seen as being the European Champions.
The Six Nations Championship, with its predecessors the Five Nations and the Home Championship, is the premier international rugby union tournament in the Northern Hemisphere. It has also in the past been known as 'The International Championship'.
In 1871, England and Scotland played the first rugby union international. After 12 years of occasional friendly matches between the teams, the inaugural Home International Championship, comprising England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales was played in 1883. England won the first series, along with a Triple Crown. Up until 1893, England and Scotland were the only champions, with Wales winning their first title that season. Ireland won their first title the following season. The 1908 and 1909 championships won by Wales, although won during the Home Nations era, could be regarded as Grand Slams, as they also defeated France both seasons.
In 1910 the French, who had played in four of the tournaments up to that point, officially joined the competition and coined the phrase "Five Nations". England won the first championship of the new era, with the Welsh achieving the first Grand Slam the following year. The competition was suspended during World War I (1914-18). In 1931, France were ejected from the tournament (see below), which reverted to being the "Home Nations" from 1932 through to 1939. The competition was suspended again during World War II (1939-1945). With France back in the competition, the Five Nations resumed in 1947, with a shared victory for England and Wales. France won their first shared title in 1954, and their first outright title in 1959.
By the 1970s the Five Nations Championship had become the pre-eminent series in Northern hemisphere rugby union with matches becoming all-ticket affairs, gaining huge popularity and a large television audience. The 1972 tournament was not finished after Scotland and Wales refused to play in Dublin. The season after was unique for a five-way tie, with every nation having won and lost two games. The 1970s marked the golden age for Welsh rugby; winning three Grand Slams and one Triple Crown during the decade. Until 1993, there was no tangible reward for winning the Five Nations championship: there was neither flag nor cup or any other kind of trophy. However, for season 1992-93, there was presented, for competition, the Five Nations Championship Trophy.
France were the first winners of the new trophy, followed by Wales and then England. Scotland's first success came in season 1998-99; Ireland have yet to win it. Scotland was the last nation to win the Five Nations Trophy as such because Italy joined the competition in 2000 and the tournament became known as the "Six Nations Championship". England were the first nation to win the trophy under the new format, winning the 2000 competition. The importance of the competition has decreased slightly since the introduction of the Rugby World Cup, but the long-standing rivalries between teams mean that it remains a passionate and fiercely contested prize.
Following the 1931 competition, France was expelled amid allegations of professionalism, the inadequacies of the French administration and concerns over on-field violence. France was readmitted following the 1939 competition, but World War II caused the suspension of the Five Nations until 1947. After the competition resumed, it remained the Five Nations for over a half-century. In 1972, the championship was abandoned as Wales and Scotland refused to play in Ireland after receiving threatening letters purportedly from the IRA.
In 1996, a deal between British Sky Broadcasting and the Rugby Football Union meant that England home games were exclusively shown on Sky. This deal caused great controversy at the time and England were threatened with being expelled from the competition and being replaced by Italy. This threat was never carried out with the understanding that all future television deals would be negotiated collectively. Consequently, when the television rights became available once more, the rights to show all six nations matches in Britain went to the BBC.
An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain disrupted the 2001 championship; Ireland's matches against Wales, Scotland and England were postponed until the autumn.
Played annually, the format of the Championship is simple: each team plays every other team once, with home field advantage alternating from one year to the next. Two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. Unlike most other rugby union competitions the bonus point system is not used. Victory in every game results in a 'Grand Slam'. Back to back Grand Slams have been achieved on five occasions, by Wales in 1908/1909, by England in 1913/1914, 1923/1924 and 1991/1992 and France in 1997/1998. England holds the record for the number of Grand Slams won with 12, followed by Wales with 10, France with 8, Scotland with 3 and Ireland with 1.
Victory by any Home Nation over the other three Home Nations is a 'Triple Crown'. The Triple Crown has twice been won on four consecutive occasions, once by Wales in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979 and once by England in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. England hold the record for the number of Triple Crowns won with 23, followed by Wales with 20, Scotland with 10 and Ireland with 9. Although this achievement has long been a feature of the tournament, it was not until 2006 that a physical trophy, commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, was awarded.
The last-placed nation at the end of the tournament is said to have won the (purely figurative) Wooden Spoon.
Several individual competitions take place under the umbrella of the tournament. The oldest such regular competition is for the Calcutta Cup, contested annually between England and Scotland since 1879. Since 1988, the Millennium Trophy has been awarded to the winner of the game between England and Ireland. Since 2007, France and Italy also have their own trophy: the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy; it was created for the 200th anniversary of the Italian hero who helped unify Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was born in Nizza in 1807; the city became subsequently French with the current name of Nice in 1859.
Prior to 1994, teams equal on points shared the championship. After that date, ties were broken by considering the points difference of the teams. The rules of the championship further provide that should teams tie on both match points and points difference, the team having scored the most tries wins the championship. If even this decider is tied, the tying teams share the championship. To date, however, match points and points difference have been sufficient to decide the championship.
In 2005 Wales won the Grand Slam, becoming the first team ever to win a Grand Slam playing more games away than at home.
In 2006, France won the competition on points difference over Ireland. Ireland received the consolation prize of the Triple Crown Trophy, presented for the first time that year. Italy once more collected the Wooden Spoon, but showed considerable improvement over past years, earning a first-ever competition point away from home in a draw against Wales.
In 2007, France again won on points difference, after four teams had at least a mathematical chance of topping the table going into the final week. The Italians had their first away win of the tournament beating Scotland in Edinburgh. It was also the first time they won two of their matches as they went on to beat Wales in Rome. Scotland won the wooden spoon and Ireland won the Triple Crown for the second straight year and third time in four years.
In 2008 Wales won the Grand Slam with a 29-12 win against France in Cardiff, having only conceded two tries in the championship, beating England's previous record of four tries conceded.
The winners of the RBS 6 Nations are presented with the Championship Trophy. This was originally conceived by the Earl of Westmorland, and was first presented to the winners of the 1993 championship, France. It is a sterling silver trophy, designed by James Brent-Ward and made by a team of eight silversmiths from the London firm William Comyns; it is valued at £55,000. Although originally silver on the inside, the trophy became so corroded through celebratory champagne fillings that it is now plated with 22 carat gold for protection.
It has 15 side panels representing the 15 members of the team and with three handles to represent the three officials (referee and two touch judges). The cup has a capacity of 3.75 litres – sufficient for five bottles of champagne. Within the mahogany base is a concealed drawer which contains six alternate finials, each a silver replica of one of the team emblems, which can be screwed on the detachable lid.
As no trophy was historically awarded for winning the Triple Crown, it was often called 'the invisible cup'. In 2006 the primary sponsor of the competition, the Royal Bank of Scotland, commissioned a trophy to be awarded to Triple Crown winners.
The award, a silver dish known as the Triple Crown Trophy, was contested for the first time in the 2006 Six Nations. Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll claimed the trophy for Ireland at Twickenham on March 18 after a last-minute try from Shane Horgan gave Ireland a 28-24 win over England.
Wales currently hold the Triple Crown after beating Ireland 16-12 at Croke Park on 8th March 2008.
Several other trophies are contested within the main competition, mostly as long-standing fixtures between pairs of teams.
The 2008 RBS 6 Nations matches were held in the following stadia:
Croke Park is not the normal home of Irish rugby; it is the flagship stadium of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which until 2005 prohibited its venues from being used for football or rugby. Ireland's traditional home, Lansdowne Road, will be unavailable during 2007 or 2008 due to the construction of a completely new stadium on the site of what had become an increasingly run-down venue. The all-Ireland governing body for rugby union, the Irish Rugby Football Union, reached an agreement with the GAA to allow Ireland to play their RBS 6 Nations fixtures at Croke Park in 2007. The agreement will most likely continue until the new Lansdowne Road opens, projected to be in time for the 2010 Six Nations.
Similarly, the Stadio Flaminio may no longer be big enough, since "palla ovale" is becoming more popular in Italy. Rugby games may in future be held at football stadiums such as the Stadio Olimpico in Rome or in the North where rugby is most popular. Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa (42,000 seats) or Stadio Ennio Tardini, Parma (almost 28,000 seats) have been suggested as alternative grounds. But recently, improvements for Flaminio have been announced.
Since 1954, when France first won the Championship, France have been the most successful, with 22 victories and 8 Grand Slams, before Wales (18 victories and 6 Grand Slams), England (14 victories and 6 Grand Slams), Scotland (6 victories and 2 Grand Slams), Ireland (5 victories) and Italy, which has not won yet.
|Source: Roll of Honour at BBC|
|1915-19||Not held due to World War I|
|Source: Roll of Honour at BBC|
|Source: Roll of Honour at BBC|
|1940–46||Not held due to World War II|
|1954||(Triple Crown), and|
|1960||(Triple Crown) and|
|1973||, , , and|
|1977||(Grand Slam) with the same fifteen players, the only time in a rugby championship|
|1988||and (Triple Crown)|
|Source: Roll of Honour at BBC|
|Source: Roll of Honour at BBC|
|Nation||W||Grand Slam Season|
This continued until 2007 when, as a result of the formal adoption of the competition by the Six Nations Committee, Spain was replaced with Italy - purely in order to align both the women's and men's national team participants. Historically in women's rugby Spain had been a significantly stronger team than not only Italy, but had occasionally finished above Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in the tournament.
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