The Six Nations is one of the oldest rugby cup competitions in the world, evolving from the Five Nations, and the Home Nations tournament before that. The first Tournament was held in 1883, and the Six Nations in its current format was born in 2000 when Italy joined the Home Nations and France.
The trophy was crafted originally from sterling silver. However, given the recent propensity for the winning side to fill the cup with champagne, it has been given a gold-plating to the inside to protect the silver from corrosion. It will hold about 3.75 litres, which is equivalent to 5 bottles of bubbly. The trophy is valued in the region of £55,000. Given the tournament's ‘gentlemanly’ origins, in the first instances, there were no points awarded, rather just a judgement as to which team had won.
The tournament has seen quite a turbulent history, put on hold for war, and countries forced to pull out. In 1972, the championship could not be completed because with rising political tensions in Ireland, both Wales and Scotland refused to travel to Dublin to play their games. The following year, 1973, was also memorable, as the only year in which there was a five way tie, with each side winning two matches and losing two.
Within the championship, there are various other annual contests, the oldest of which is the Calcutta Cup which sees England play Scotland. Arguably one of the most recognisable trophies in sport, the Calcutta Cup has been up and running since 1879. Going back to colonial times, rugby was introduced to India in 1872, but once the British Army left in 1874, the interest in rugby moved to games such as tennis and polo, which were more appropriate to the climate and the Calcutta RFU was disbanded in 1878.
As a memorial, the remaining members of the club used the 270 rupees left in the official club bank account and had them melted down and formed into a trophy, which they presented to the RFU. The handles depict three king cobras, with intricate etching on the silver cup, which is finished with an Indian elephant on a circular lid.
More recently, the winner of England v Ireland walks away with the Millennium Trophy for the team silverware cabinet, and the Centenary Quaich goes to the winner of Scotland v Ireland, both in play since 1989. Not wanting to be left out, France and Italy now have their own contest, too, for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy, after the 200th anniversary of the birthday of its namesake, launched in 2007. He was a General in the French military, and helped unify Italy.
There is a fairly simple format for the competition; every team plays everyone else once, and home advantage alternates every year. Should a team win every match, they are said to win the “Grand Slam,” and there have been back-to-back Grand Slam winners on only five occasions, and not since France won in 1997 and 1998. At the other end of the spectrum, if a team fails to win any matches, they are awarded the "Wooden Spoon."
Wales won back-to-back Grand Slams first, back in 1908 and 1909, although England have managed it on the most occasions (3 times in total), and currently hold the record for total Grand Slam wins, with 12. Wales are in second place, just behind on 11, then France close behind on nine. Scotland have accomplished it three times and Ireland two.
If England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland were to beat each of the other home nation teams but not France and Italy to make the full Grand Slam, they win the Triple Crown. England have more Triple Crowns than anyone else at twenty three, with Wales hot on their heels with twenty, and Ireland and Scotland both on ten. Scotland won the last ever Five Nations tournament in 1999, but have never won a Six Nations championship.
Despite England’s success as a team, having won the tournament a total of twenty five times, it is individual Irish players that hold the major records; fly half Ronan O’Gara is the tournament’s highest overall points scorer with 557 points, although England’s Jonny Wilkinson, (also a fly half) scored 35 points in England’s thrashing of Italy, 80-25 in their second season in 2001. That match was also a record-setter for England, posting the most points scored by a single side in a match, and helped Jonny Wilkinson towards his record points haul of 89 in a single tournament.
Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll has crossed the line more than anyone else, with twenty six tries to his name before his retirement, and despite their recent aversion to the try line, Scotland still hold the record for the most tries scored by a single player in a match, dating back to 1887 when George Lindsay crossed five times against Wales.
With such a long and colourful history, it’s no wonder the Six Nations continues to draw such big audiences. This year’s championship is already shaping up to be another thriller.