The Six Nations rugby tournament, the oldest rugby championship the world, is the premier international rugby tournament in the Northern hemisphere and is contested by the traditional European powers, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy, with the winner accepted as the ‘best’ team in Europe.
The tournament also serves as a barometer for each European teams’ preparation for the quadrennial Rugby World Cup.
France has dominated the competition over the last decade, winning 5 titles during that stretch including back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007 and winning on Grand Slam runs in 2004, 2002 and 1998.
England, however, has had the most success over the history of the tournament with 25 outright titles, 12 in Grand Slam runs, and an additional ten shared championships. Wales is a close second with 23 outright titles.
The format of the Championship is straight forward: 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. [NEED MORE – Prior to 1994, teams tied on points shared the title but since that time an outright winner has been determined based on point differential.]
A team is said to have completed a ‘Grand Slam’ when they manage to win all their matches on their way to the title. Victory by any Home Nation, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, over the other three Home Nations is a 'Triple Crown'. And the last-placed nation at the end of the tournament is said to have won the purely figurative Wooden Spoon.
The Six Nations history traces back to 1883 when England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales established the Home International Championship. After unofficially participating in several tournaments, France was officially added to the competition in 1910 when the term Five Nations was coined. It would be 90 years before the tournament was expanded to its current size with the inclusion of Italy to the tournament ranks in 2000.
During its long history, the Six Nations has had its share of controversy and bickering between nations. In 1885, 1887 and 1889, the tournament could not be completed. After the turn of the century, crowds in south Wales were known to regularly invade the pitch and sometimes even threaten to lynch the referee. Not to be outdone, the French were expelled in the 1930’s after players were found to have hidden stiletto knives in their socks.
The tournament was not played during World War I or World War II.
More recently in 1996 there have been disputes over T.V. rights and how to split broadcast revenues as well as postponements in 2001 due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain.
With its long history and high caliber of play, the Six Nations has lived up to its reputation to become one of the most anticipated events on the rugby calendar with huge TV audiences and sell-out crowds across Europe.
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