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The history of the Six Nations Championship

6 nations rugby

As the English rugby team travelled to Swansea on a dreary day in 1882, few could have realised the importance of the occasion. England's subsequent victory against Wales sparked the beginnings of a tournament that has since become the pride of the northern hemisphere.

The Six Nations Championship begins this weekend and to celebrate Newitts takes a look back at the history behind one of the most popular events on the rugby calendar.


The Six Nations is the oldest rugby championship in the world, with origins dating back to 1882 when the first championship was formed between British countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. France joined in 1910 and Italy in 2000, making it the Six Nations tournament we know today.

The Six Nations takes place every season over a period of seven weekends, beginning in February and ending in late March/early April. Each team plays the other five once and teams take turns to host the match in alternate years. The RBS 6 Nations Championship Trophy is awarded to the team who earn the most points during the season - 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw.

"England and Wales currently hold the record for most outright wins with 26 titles each"



The origins of the Six Nations date back to 1871 when teams from England and Scotland played in the first-ever rugby union international match. In 1879, the Calcutta Cup was created as a prize for the winner of the matches played between both teams from the two countries. Soon, other British teams became interested in international rugby union and so the Home International Championship was born.

The growth of rugby union throughout Europe at the start of the 20th century led to opportunities to expand the tournament outside of the Home Nations and in 1910 France officially became one of the teams, with the tournament renamed the Five Nations.

During the war period, France were dropped due to their disappointing performance, but in 1947 when the tournament resumed following World War II, France were allowed back and in the following decade proved themselves as one of the dominant forces in international rugby union, sharing the Five Nations title in 1954 and 1955 and then winning four consecutive championships from 1959-1962.

In 2000, Italy joined the tournament and it was renamed the Six Nations Championship. The Italians made a great start, claiming a victory in their first-ever match, but since then they have floundered with a best-ever finish of only fourth place in 2007.

The Trophies

The ultimate goal is to win the Six Nations, but there are additional accolades that can also be won. The most highly coveted title is the Grand Slam which is awarded to the team who manage to win all five of their matches. France was the last team to achieve this in 2010.

There is also the title of 'Triple Crown', which is awarded if a team from the 4 Home Unions (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) beats each of the other 3 Home Unions.

Further trophies are awarded to winners of certain matches. The Calcutta Cup is presented to the winner of the England versus Scotland match, the Millennium Trophy is awarded to the winner of the England versus Ireland match, the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy is presented to the winner of Italy versus France and the Centenary Quaich award is presented to the winner of the Ireland versus Scotland match.

The later years

During the 1970s, Wales dominated the Five Nations finishing the decade with three Grand Slams and one Triple Crown.

In the 1980s it was France who took a turn to dominate the leadership board, winning the title outright three times, including two Grand Slams in 1981 and 1987.In 1984, Scotland won their first Grand Slam for 59 years and Ireland scooped the title 12 months later, but have not won it since.

"England hold the record for the most grand slams won with 12"


It wasn't until the 1990s that England became one of the sides to consistently dominate the leadership board along with France, which led to criticism that the championship was not offering a high enough standard of competition, and so Italy was brought into the tournament. But despite success in their opening game against Scotland in Rome, they have failed to ever win the title.

France were the dominating side in the 2000s winning in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 with only England and Wales breaking up their consecutive victory.

Ireland are the current Six Nations 2015 champions, having finished on equal points with Wales and England in 2015, and winning the trophy by achieving a higher match points difference.

England and Wales currently hold the record for the most outright wins in the tournament with 26 titles each. Since the Six Nations began in 2000, only Scotland and Italy have failed to win the trophy.

Records held

  • England hold the record for the number of Grand Slams won with 12.
  • England hold the record for the number of Triple Crowns won with 23.
  • Brian O-Driscoll holds two records for the most overall matches played with 65 and the most overall tries scored with 26.
  • Ronan O'Gara holds two records scoring the most overall points with 556 and the most overall penalties with 109.
  • Jonny Wilkinson holds four records for the most points in a season with 89, the most points in one match with 35, the most overall conversions with 89 and the most overall drop goals with 11.


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