The Six Nations - Rugby

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  1. History
  2. Format
  3. Contests Within the Tournament
  4. Records
  5. Trivia
  6. Further Reading
  7. The Six Nation's Rugby tournament is kicking off on the 4th of February 2017.

The Six Nations is one of the sporting year’s premier events, pitting the best sides in the northern hemisphere against each other in a fiercely contested mini-league. It’s vital viewing for any fan of rugby union and usually piques the interest of those who only take a passing interest in the sport too. In this guide we’ll tell you all you need to know about the tournament.



The modern Six Nations competition has its roots in what was known as The Home Nations Championship, which included England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This contest, the first ever international rugby tournament, ran from 1883-1909 and was renamed The Five Nations in 1910, when France decided to get in on the action.

The French initially struggled and by 1931 a combination of poor standards of play and a scandal around players being played at club level (at the time the game was strictly amateur. Indeed, it was only in 1995 that the International Rugby Board officially sanctioned professionalism) meant they had to withdraw, sending the contest back to its old form. France looked to rejoin in 1939, but the outbreak of WWII put the tournament on hold until 1947.

From here the competition remained largely unchanged up until 1994 when there was a significant alteration to the format. Previously, if two teams were tied for the highest number of points at the end of the tournament, they would simply share the championship. After this point, match points and then tries scored would be used to decide an overall winner if they were tied on points. Another major change came in 1999 when Italy were introduced and The Six Nations was born.

Compared most other major international sporting tournaments there is not that a big a disparity between the records of the participants in The Six Nations. France, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales have all enjoyed purple patches throughout the decades, but no one has managed complete dominance for more than a few years without interruption. The most times the tournament has ever been won on the trot is four, with France winning consecutively from 1959-62, but even then one of these was shared with England. The only team to have never won the competition are Italy. Italy also hold the record for ‘wooden spoons’ (more on which later).


The Six Nations 2017

The Six Nations 2017 looks set to be one of the closest contents of recent years, with the biggest teams also using the tournament as a warm-up for the upcoming 2015 World Cup, due to kick off in September.

In fact, Ireland, Wales and England all have a realistic chance of winning the Six Nations outright this year. This means that the match-ups will be intense and even more exciting than usual, making for fantastic viewing and even better betting opportunities.

Here’s a quick overview of each of the six teams and their odds to win going into the tournament. All odds are from and were quoted before the start of the first game.

  • England: After strong performances in the last three tournaments, the pressure is on Stuart Lancaster’s team to finally win the Six Nations. The good news is that they have arguably the strongest pack of any of the teams, plus they will have three home games, all of which they will be expected to win. On the other hand, despite beating Australia in the autumn, England have looked under-par over the past few months, and questions about their strongest midfield have yet to be convincingly answered. The opening game against Wales in Cardiff should be an excellent indicator of how England will do overall. Odds: 2/1


  • Wales: The Welsh go into the Six Nations 2015 as the third-favourites with the bookies. This hasn’t stopped many experts tipping them to win the thing. As their supporters point out, unlike some of their rivals, Wales go into the game with a full squad, having got through the autumn internationals without any injury scares. If they manage to get off to a flying start and notch up victories against England and then Ireland in their first two home games, then expect them to become the firm favourites to once again be crowned Six Nations champions. Odds: 3/1


  • Ireland: Over the past few months, Ireland have shown why they are considered one of the best rugby sides in the world right now. Victories over South Africa and Australia meant they were unbeaten over the whole of autumn and are now ranked third in the world. Sure, they do have injury worries, not least with acclaimed fly-half Jonathan Sexton, as well as half-back Conor Murray. If these two big players can stay fit and on the pitch, Ireland should be favourites to hold onto their Six Nations crown. Odds: 15/8 Favourites


  • Scotland: Scotland could be the dark horses this time around. While they may not have the flair of other teams, they have plenty of strength-in-depth, with the squad full of useful players who can play a role over the next few weeks. But it’s arguably coach Vern Cotter who will make the biggest impact on the tournament. The Kiwi is known for his tactical nous and he’s already been developing Scotland in a number of ways, not least through his inclusion of the Gray brothers to add a bit of extra steel to the Scottish side. Odds: 33/1


  • France: France have never won the Six Nations. In fact, they’ve never even finished in the top half of the table, so the chances of them emerging victorious this time around seem slim. At the same time, however, the French did finish as runners-up in the last World Cup. Plus, they only recently beat Australia in Paris. Philippe Saint-Andre’s men could cause a few shocks them, especially if any of the big favourites have an off day and fail to show them the respect they surely deserve. Odds: 11/2


  • Italy: In past years, Italy have been the whipping boys of the Six Nations. This time round, while they are hardly expected to win the tournament overall, they have enough power and tenacity to give even England and Ireland a good game. So, expect them to lose most of their games and most probably finish bottom of the group, but don’t expect any easy matches. Odds: 500/1


In terms of format the tournament is basically a short lived league, comparable to the group stage of a competition like The Rugby World Cup. Teams all play each other once, earning two points for winning a match, one in the event of a draw and none for losing. Unlike other rugby competitions there are no bonus points on offer for scoring multiple tries or for losing by only a narrow margin.

There is no knock out stage, and no progression towards a final. That said, by the time the last set of games is reached certain ties can become critical to the outcome and, if two sides facing each other both need a win to claim the trophy then it is, in essence, a cup final. For example, in 2013 Wales hosted England on Cardiff in the last day of the tournament knowing that if they won by eight points or more they’d win the tournament, whilst England simply had to avoid defeat by the aforementioned margin to be overall winners. (In the event Wales pulled it off.)

As each team plays each other team only once, there’s the odd situation of some teams being forced to play more ties away than at home. (As each team plays five matches, three sides get to play at home three times, where as three will be at home just twice.) Ties between each side alternate venue year on year, ensuring fairness in the longer run, however it is worth remembering that there is a slight advantage/disadvantage year on year built into the format of the tournament.

The tournament begins each year in February and runs through to the middle of March, with the majority of games taking place at weekends.


Contests Within the Tournament

The Six Nations is somewhat unique among major sporting tournaments in that there are actually as many trophies up for grabs as there are teams involved. On top of the physical trophies there are also informal awards to be won. These prizes on offer are;

The Championship Trophy 

This goes to the overall winner of the tournament.


The Triple Crown Trophy 

This is awarded if one of the ‘home countries’ (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) beats all three of the others. As this doesn’t happen every year, the trophy isn’t always awarded. It used to be known as ‘the invisible trophy’ as there was no physical prize attached to the feat until 2006 when the sponsors, RBS, had one commissioned.


The Grand Slam

This is where a side wins the tournament with a flawless string of five wins. It’s an informal honour, so there is no actual trophy. However, there is not really any need for a trophy seeing as it is impossible to achieve a grand slam without also winning the tournament and taking The Championship Trophy. Obviously, if the team in question is one of the home countries they will also get The Triple Crown Trophy, as well as any other trophies they are applicable for (see the rest of this list). With that in mind, the team coach need hardly be burdened with the weight of more silverware!


The Calcutta Cup 

This goes to the winner of the match between England and Scotland. Its name commemorates a match between English and Scottish players which took place in India in 1872 and lead to the formation of the Calcutta Rugby Club. Though not a major honour, the trophy itself is one of the most attractive in the game. Its design features cobras and elephants and it’s made from melted rupees.


The Centenary Quaich

This goes to the winner of the match between Ireland and Scotland. It was introduced in 1989. Since it’s been contested the honours have been very evenly split. With their victory in the first round of the 2014 contest Ireland now have 12 wins to Scotland’s 13.


The Millennium Trophy

This goes to the winner of England Vs. Ireland. It was introduced in 1988 and has another unusual design, taking the form of a Viking helmet. England are ahead of Ireland on wins but have been losing ground in more recent years.


The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy

This goes to the winner of the tie between France and Italy. It’s named after the lead figure behind Italy’s unification. It was introduced in 2007 and has spent the majority of its time in French hands. It is, however, the only Six Nations related honour Italy have picked up aside from the dreaded ‘wooden spoon’ (see below).


The Wooden Spoon

This is not a real trophy, nor is it a real honour. It’s an imagined accolade that gets awarded to the team that comes bottom of the heap each year. In the Six Nation’s era only two sides have managed to avoid it – England and Ireland.

As you can see, this means certain countries have more to play for than others. Including all the real and informal honours (even the spoon) England, Ireland and Scotland could take six different titles, Whereas Italy, France and Wales could take only four. (Italy and France are excluded from The Triple Crown, whereas Wales are the only country who don’t play for a one off trophy against any of the other sides.)


These are the records for the honours mentioned above, taking the whole history of the tournament into account (including before France and Italy joined).

Championships (Including Shared Titles)    Grand Slams
Country Wins    Country Wins
Wales 38    England 12
England 36    Wales 11
France 26    France 9
Scotland 22    Scotland 3
Ireland 20    Ireland 2
Italy 0    Italy 0
Triple Crowns    Wooden Spoons
Country Wins    Country Wins
England 23    Ireland 36
Wales 20    Scotland 32
Scotland 10    England 25
Ireland 10    Wales 21
         France 18
         Italy 9
The Calcutta Cup    The Centenary Quaich
Country Wins    Country Wins
England 66    Scotland 13
Scotland 39    Ireland 12
The Millennium Trophy    The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy
Country Wins    Country Wins
England 16    France 5
Ireland 10    Italy 2

Let’s round off with a few final facts:

  • The Championship trophy is estimated to be worth about £58,000. The inside was lined with gold to protect it from the corrosive effects of champagne.
  • The most points ever scored in match is 80. England put up the points against Italy in 2001.
  • The best ever defensive performance of The Six Nation’s era was by Wales in 2008. They conceded just two tries in five games.
  • Ireland's Ronan O’Gara is the tournament’s highest points scorer with 551 points over his career.
  • Ireland and France share the record for longest dry spell. They have each passed 24 tournaments without a win at different times. Scotland and Italy are both currently in the midst of a 13 year wait. Scotland won it the year before Italy joined and neither have won it since.

Further Reading


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