There is nothing else quite like the Six Nations Championship. The mixture of excitement and competitiveness is compelling. For fans of Rugby Union, it’s a tournament which always delivers drama and the guarantee of a great day out.
The tournament was initially called the Home Nations Championship (otherwise known as the Four Nations Championship). It consisted of teams from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, played between 1883 to 1909, and again from 1932 to 1939. It was the first-ever international rugby union tournament.
The addition of the French national team led to the creation of the Five Nations Championship, played from 1910 until 1931 when France was expelled from the tournament. This was due to accusations of poor organisation, on-field violent play, and allegations the amateur code was being broken in the French league.
The French team were finally invited back for the following year in 1939, only for World War 2 to break out and signal the tournament’s subsequent suspension. The competition finally began again and reverted to the Five Nations Championship in 1947. That format continued until 1999.
The year 2000 saw the inclusion of the Italian national team and the rebranding of the tournament to the Six Nations Championship. This format has remained in place ever since.
The race for the best overall record is close between England and Wales. Wales have 39 Championships with 27 being outright, while 12 have been shared. England has had 38 Championship wins with ten being shared, meaning they have the record for outright wins at 28.
During the Six Nations era, the only teams still waiting to win a championship are Scotland and Italy.
An Overview of the Teams in the 2020 Six Nations Tournament
The tournament currently runs every year, in which we can sit back and enjoy the performance of six teams of professional rugby players. Let’s take a look at each in a little more depth.
England’s rugby team plays from the huge Twickenham stadium which is the largest stadium dedicated to rugby worldwide.
The first-ever rugby international at Twickenham (England had played from various stadiums before settling at Twickenham) took place in 1910 against Wales. England won 11-6 which was notable as it was the first time they’d had a victory over Wales since 1898.
The team was founded in 1871 and lost their first-ever official international match 1-0 to Scotland. (Evidently there was a different scoring system in place in those days.) The team improved to do well in the early days of the Home Nations Championship.
They dominated their early years, which had started in 1883. Early notable matches include the first-ever game against future giants of the game New Zealand in 1905, then South Africa in 1906, and Australia in 1909.
England is the most successful team from the six nations tournament to compete in the four-yearly Rugby World Cup. They have been involved since the inaugural 1987 competition and were champions in 2003. This was a mighty victory over Australia 20-17 in the final. It was celebrated by over 750,000 fans at a victory parade throughout London which culminated in the team meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
This victory alone spurred a tremendous boost to the popularity of Rugby Union with the general public.
The England team have also won the Grand Slam (beating all opponents in a single season in the Home, Five or Six Nations Championship) and the Triple Crown (beating all three home nations) 25 times.
The France national rugby team represents the French Rugby Federation. It plays mostly from the spectacular Stade de France stadium in Paris.
The British first introduced rugby to the French in 1872, and they played their first international match in 1906 against New Zealand in Paris. The French team also gave notable performances in the Summer Olympics, winning gold in 1900 and two silver medals in the 1920s.
The team made real progress in the ‘50s and ‘60s until they won their first Five Nations title in 1959 and their first Grand Slam in 1968. They have enjoyed tremendous success since then and have won the title outright 17 times which has included an impressive 9 Grand Slams and 8 title shares.
France have reached the final of the Rugby World Cup 3 times. They hosted the tournament in 2003 when they were beaten by eventual winners England.
The Ireland rugby union team represents the whole of Ireland – both north and south. They play from the all seated Aviva sports stadium in Dublin which was built on the site of the famous Lansdowne Road stadium.
Ireland’s team started in 1875 and played their first match against England. Ireland reached a milestone when they attained the number 1 spot in the rugby world rankings back in 2019.
Ireland has won the Six Nations (including its predecessor) tournaments 14 times and has had 8 shared titles. They have had mixed results in the Rugby World Cup, and the best they have achieved is reaching the quarter-finals 6 times.
The Italy national rugby union team are known as gli Azzurri (the Blues). They are currently ranked the 14th team in the world rankings, and they have been a part of the Six Nations competition since 2000.
Initially, the team struggled and suffered some severe defeats against their more established rivals. The team has shown significant improvement in recent years and has become harder to beat and finished fourth in 2007 and 2013. They are currently on a winless streak, but they have been a welcome addition to the six nations. They have proven to fierce competitors when beating France and Ireland at home.
The Italian Rugby team played the very first match of the first Rugby World Cup in 1997 against New Zealand and have been a part of every tournament since. They are yet to go past the first round.
The Scottish national rugby union team play home matches from the famed Murrayfield Stadium. They date back to 1871 when they beat England in their first international match.
Scotland has competed in the Home, Five and Six nations competitions from the beginning, winning it 14 times and sharing the title a further 8. Since the tournament became the Six Nations in 2000, Scotland is yet to win the competition.
They had been a part of the Rugby World Cup since the beginning in 1987, and their best result was finishing fourth in 1991.
Scotland is currently ranked 9th in the world and enjoys a healthy rivalry with England. The two teams plays out the Calcutta Cup each year as part of the Six Nations, and the victors are awarded a special trophy made from donated rupee coins.
Welsh rugby is renowned for the passion of its supporters. Their governing body, the WRU (Welsh Rugby Union), was founded in 1881, and the Welsh team played their first international match against England that year.
They played from the renowned Cardiff Arms Park for many years before moving to the spectacular Millenium Stadium in Cardiff in 1999.
They have been involved in the Six Nations Championship and predecessors since the beginning and have won the title 27 times. Their most recent victory was in 2019 where they also achieved a Grand Slam and beat all of their opponents.
Welsh team has generally performed well at the Rugby World Cup and achieved their best result by finishing 3rd in the inaugural tournament in 1987. They have also reached the semi-finals twice more.
They are currently going through a rosy period, and aside from winning the Grand Slam, they won 14 consecutive matches between 2018 and 2019 and reached number 1 in the world.
The Six Nations Championship remains a tremendous spectacle. It continues to receive excellent viewership ratings when broadcast on ITV or the BBC. A notable development is that all matches are now shown on NBC in America, which goes to show the increasing worldwide popularity of the sport.
What Happened in the 2019 Tournament and What Can We Expect in 2020?
The 2019 tournament was known as the Guinness Six Nations. It was the 20th edition of the Six Nations tournament and the 125th overall including the Home and Five Nations versions of the championship.
Wales dominated the tournament by claiming their first Grand Slam since 2012 by beating the defending champions Ireland in the final match of the year.
It was a fantastic tournament that had one particularly notable match. The March draw between England and Scotland in the Calcutta Cup was a pulsating match which ended 38-38.
It was a noteworthy match for many reasons as it broke many records. With 76 points scored it was the highest-scoring draw in the history of international rugby. Scotland achieved the greatest ever comeback to draw in history by turning around a 24 point deficit in the second half.
The 6 tries from Scotland were the most they had ever scored at Twickenham. All-in-all it was an incredible match and a fantastic advert for the sport. It also demonstrated the lengths Scotland will go to to avoid defeat to the English!
The 2020 Guinness Six Nations has begun and has started excitingly. There will be no repeat of the previous years Grand Slam as the mighty Wales team have already been defeated by Ireland.
As of writing, France and Ireland lead the pack, but there is still plenty to play for. Both England and defending champions Wales are still in with a realistic chance of winning the championship.
What challenges and changes can we expect in the Six Nations tournament over the coming years?
Wales might be the dominant force on the pitch at the six Nations at the moment, but there is a real battle happening for the future of the tournament.
The sports governing body, World Rugby, has made a proposal to form a global competition including giants of the game such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. This has had the effect of increasing interest in the Six Nations, which has had some considerable investment offers.
The mega-agency IMG are reportedly offering 1.75 billion pounds and proposing to hold all of the equity from the sport.
CVC Capital Partners, who are a private equity company, have reportedly offered 500 million pounds for a stake of 30 percent of the tournament and all proceeds from its commercial side. There are clearly massive changes afoot in the world of rugby union.
There have been meetings between all of the top teams to attempt to find a unified view on the best way forward. The timing of these bids complicates the idea of a worldwide tournament. They need to be agreed by all of the 6 rugby unions from the Six Nations. They cannot be implemented in tandem with another deal.
World Rugby is proposing a 12 team tournament which would include all 6 teams from the Six Nations. Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa from the Rugby Championship competition would join them. There would also be the addition of the fairly minor Japan and USA teams.
The idea is to maintain the existing tournaments, but with additional international matches throughout the year. Then the sides from the southern hemisphere and the northern would compete to select teams to compete in a grand final.
It is a vast concept that would change the face of rugby union. It has over 5 billion pounds pledged in financial backing from Infront Sports which is a marketing firm headed by Sepp Blatter’s relative Phillippe Blatter.
They propose offering each team 10 million pounds per year for 12 years. It is still dwarfed by the proposals from IMG and CVC Capital Partners who are apparently offering 100 million pounds per country upfront. It certainly seems our little home nations tournament with added cousins France and Italy will be undergoing significant changes!
The fear is that any of these proposals will have some severe money-raising plans. It might involve moving the matches to be shown on subscription only broadcasters, such as DAZN, Netflix, or similar. It would mean a dilution of the grassroots connection to the sport and dilute audiences overall.
There is a great deal of appeal to reach a broad audience by remaining on terrestrial television.
The challenge to this line of thinking is that the Six Nations teams could all benefit by a cash injection. Their southern hemisphere competitors have an even bigger current financial struggle.
Teams in the southern hemisphere are losing their elite players from their leagues as they can get a better deal in Europe. They might end up shunning the international game for the riches of league rugby which would create an imbalance in favour of European rugby.
It will be hard to turn down the World Rugby proposal for all of the teams, but even harder for the European teams to say no to CVC or IMG. It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out, but the one near certainty is that there will be a resolution within the next few months.
The proposal from World Rugby seems a practical solution for every team. There would be a global investment and an attempt to create a level financial playing field. It would also allow for less developed rugby playing nations such as Argentina, Japan, and the USA to grow and develop.
There are concerns about player welfare, as there would be significant extra travel and play involved. How far can you go until the player’s form and wellbeing start to suffer?
It is an exciting time to be a rugby fan. The decisions taken over the next few months will determine the future of the sport. They will have a significant effect at all levels.
Final Thoughts on the Six Nations Rugby
Rugby Union is clearly a sport on an upward trajectory. The growing popularity of the Six Nations tournament when shown on terrestrial television and the fact that the matches are now streamed to fans worldwide over the internet mean the future is bright.
Some crucial decisions will need to be made in the coming months. It will decide if it should be expanded to include more international teams and become a worldwide event.
I personally love the existing format. There is a certain charm to the tournament featuring the 4 home nations plus close relatives the French and Italians. It would be sad to have the tradition fade away in the name of progress.
If it is deemed to be the best path for the tournament and teams such as the Springboks and All Blacks join, a bit of history will be lost. Still, it will become a vast worldwide tournament and increase the visibility and popularity of the game.
Either way, the future for the teams in the Six Nations Rugby Tournament will remain bright.