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The Six Nations

The Six Nations

The Six Nations is 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.

One player from each nation

Victory in every game results in a ‘Grand Slam’ and back-to-back Grand Slams have been won on five occasions. Wales achieved the first one in 1908–1909; England have done it three times in 1913–1914, 1923–1924 and 1991–1992; while France did it in 1997–1998. England hold the record for the number of Grand Slams won with 12, followed by Wales with 10, France with 9, Scotland with 3, and Ireland with 2. Victory by any Home Nation over the other three Home Nations constitutes as a ‘Triple Crown’. The Triple Crown has twice been won on four consecutive occasions, once by Wales between 1976–1979; and once by England between 1995–1998. England hold the record for the number of Triple Crowns won with 23; followed by Wales with 19; Scotland and Ireland both with 10.

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. Meanwhile the last-placed Nation at the end of the tournament is said to have won a purely figurative Wooden Spoon.

The Six Nations Championship is the oldest rugby championship in the world, dating back to 1882. Originally held between the four United Kingdom countries England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland; France joined in 1910 and Italy joined in 2000.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Wales were the team to beat. Unbeaten at home between 1900 and 1913, they won six outright titles before England staged a revival that coincided with the 1910 opening of the RFU’s new home at Twickenham. The very first international at Twickenham brought England success over Wales, and heralded a golden era for English rugby.

France did not join the fray until 1910 and, despite their later dominance they struggled at first to achieve any notable success. They did, however, coin the phrase ‘Five Nations’. In their first four years of entry, the French won just one game — a one point victory over Scotland in 1911.

The outbreak of war in 1914 saw the tournament put on hold until 1920 and the inter-war years were dominated by England as they swept to nine championship victories, including five Grand Slams.

Scotland collected their first Grand Slam in 1925, with an emphatic win against England at Murrayfield. In 1926, Scotland became the first Home Union side to defeat England at Twickenham, after England had won the Grand Slam (winning the Triple Crown AND beating the French) five times in eight seasons.

France continued to struggle and in 1931 the inadequacies of the French game’s administration and the discovery that a number of their players had been paid at club level, forced them to pull out of the tournament. Due to this, the championship became an entirely domestic affair for eight years and France rejoined in 1939–40, with the outbreak of World War Two delaying their re-entry for a further eight years.

Italy, meanwhile, started the newly christened Six Nations championship superbly in 2000, winning their opening game against Scotland in Rome, and in 2007 had their best tournament yet, finishing forth with back-to-back wins against Scotland and Wales.

France then entered a purple patch winning in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 with only England in 2003 (their World Cup winning year) and Wales in 2005 succeeding to break up what would have been a significant period of French domination. In fact in 2007 they only lost once, against England.

Wales put a poor World Cup well and truly behind them by winning the Grand Slam in 2008; and not to be outdone, Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2009 — the first time since 1948.

This year, the Six Nations is very open, with England and France as the bookies favourites. However, if injuries appear, as always, then it is anybody’s game.

Rugby balls in the style of each nation’s flag

12 February 2011

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