The Six Nations Championship (referred to as RBS 6 Nations for sponsorship reasons), known before 2000 as the Five Nations Championship, is an annual international rugby union competition involving six European sides: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
The Six Nations Championship is the successor to the Five Nations and the Home Nations Championship, which was the first international rugby union tournament in the Northern Hemisphere.
The winners of the Six Nations are seen as being the European Champions. The event is currently sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Ireland are the current Grand Slam title holders, for the first time since 1948, having won the competition in 2009 by beating all other teams, and winning the Triple Crown by beating England, Scotland and Wales.
In 1871, England and Scotland played the first rugby union international. After 12 years of occasional friendly matches between the teams, the inaugural Home International Championship, comprising England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales was played in 1883.
England won the first series, along with a Triple Crown. Up until 1893, England and Scotland were the only champions, with Wales winning their first title that season. Ireland won their first title the following season. The 1908 and 1909 championships won by Wales, although won during the Home Nations era, can be regarded as Grand Slams, as they also defeated France both seasons.
In 1910 the French, who had played in four of the tournaments up to that point, officially joined the competition and coined the phrase "Five Nations". England won the first championship of the new era, with the Welsh achieving the first Grand Slam the following year. The competition was suspended during World War I (1914-18). In 1931, France were ejected from the tournament , which reverted to being the "Home Nations" from 1932 through to 1939.
The competition was suspended again during World War II (1939-1945). With France back in the competition, the Five Nations resumed in 1947, with a shared victory for England and Wales. France won their first shared title in 1954, and their first outright title in 1959.
By the 1970s the Five Nations Championship had become the pre-eminent series in Northern hemisphere rugby union with matches becoming all-ticket affairs, gaining huge popularity and a large television audience. The 1972 tournament was not finished after Scotland and Wales refused to play in Dublin.
The season after was unique for a five-way tie, with every nation having won and lost two games. The 1970s marked the golden age for Welsh rugby; winning three Grand Slams and one Triple Crown during the decade.
Until 1993, there was no tangible reward for winning the Five Nations championship: there was neither flag nor cup or any other kind of trophy. However, for season 1992-93, there was presented, for competition, the Five Nations Championship Trophy.
France were the first winners of the new trophy, followed by Wales and then England. Scotland's first success came in season 1998-99; Ireland have yet to win it. Scotland was the last nation to win the Five Nations Trophy.
Italy joined the competition in 2000 and the tournament became known as the "Six Nations Championship".
England were the first nation to win the trophy under the new format, taking out the 2000 competition. The importance of the competition has decreased slightly since the introduction of the Rugby World Cup, but the long standing rivalries between teams mean that it remains a passionate and fiercely contested prize.
The winners of the RBS 6 Nations are presented with the competition trophy. The Championship Trophy was originally conceived by the Earl of Westmorland, and made its first appearance at the 1993 championship to the winners, France. It is a sterling silver trophy, designed by James Brent-Ward and made by a team of eight silversmiths from the London firm William Comyns, with a value of £55,000. Although originally silver on the inside, the trophy became so corroded through celebratory champagne fillings that it is now plated with 22 carat gold for protection.
It has 15 side panels representing the 15 members of the team and with
three handles to represent the three officials (referee and two touch
judges).The cup has a capacity of 3.75 litres – sufficient for
five bottles of champagne. Within the mahogany base is a concealed drawer
which contains six alternate finials, each a silver replica of one of
the team emblems, which can be screwed on the detachable lid.
Last update : 16/03/13