The Six Nations Rugby Tournament Explained

20 September 2020 |

Comprising the ‘big boys’ of Northern Hemisphere rugby, the Six Nations is one of the premier international competitions on the rugby calendar. There have been many famous battles between teams and players alike since the tournament’s inception. Be it Brian O’Driscoll’s brilliance, Martin Johnson’s brute force or the flair of Frederic Michalak, fans have witnessed some of the game’s best over the years.

Will the Southern Hemisphere powerhouse, South Africa join the six nations tournament in years to come? Nobody seems to know for certain, but it remains a hot topic world over.

When did the Six Nations begin?

The Six Nations as we know it today began as the Home Nations Championship. This competition began in 1883. This makes it the first international rugby union tournament that took place. The Home Nations Championship consisted of teams from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. In 1910, France joined the competition, and the Five Nations was born. This remained the status quo until 2000 when Italy joined the party. This is how the competition has remained ever since. With the addition of Italy, the name changed to the Six Nations.

How does it work?

Each team plays each other once during the Six Nations. The team who enjoys home ground advantage alternates each year. The Championship Trophy goes to the winners of the tournament. Teams that win all their matches win the ‘Grand Slam’. England led the charge here, having achieved this on 13 occasions. The home nation teams of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales all compete for The ‘Triple Crown’ which is a sub-trophy. This dates to the original Home Nations Championship. The team who win all three of their matches against the home nation opposition wins the trophy. By managing this on 26 occasions, England again are the team that has accomplished this feat the most times.

Additional trophies

There are various other competitions that the Six Nations teams compete for amongst themselves. These contests mainly take place during the competition itself. The oldest of the individual competitions is the Calcutta Cup. England and Scotland first contested for this trophy in 1879. The second oldest competition is the Millennium Trophy which were introduced in 1988 and is competed for by Ireland and England. Ireland and Scotland compete for the Centenary Quaich which was brought into being in 1989. Since the Six Nations as we know it began in 2000, the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy (between Italy and France), the Auld Alliance Trophy (between France and Scotland), and the Doddie Weir Cup (between Wales and Scotland) have all been introduced.

Recent Results

Since 2000, the team that has won the most titles are England with six wins. France and Wales have both won the competition five times, while Ireland have won it on four occasions. Scotland last won in 1999 when the competition was still in the Five Nations format. Italy have not yet managed to win a title. In fact, they have finished last on 14 occasions, and so are clearly the weakest of the teams (on average) in the competition. Wales won the title in 2019 and were subsequently one of the favourites for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Eventual winners South Africa defeated the Welsh in a closely contested semi-final.

The 2020 Six Nations still needs to be concluded after the competition was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic with a round to play. The tournament is set to resume in October. As it currently stands England and France occupy the top spot with 13 points a-piece. Each team have one more game to play.

Will South Africa join the Six Nations?      

Rumours of the South African rugby team joining the Six Nations have been around for a while now. The Boks are currently part of the Rugby Championship, a Southern Hemisphere tournament between South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina. Widely considered to be the most prestigious annual rugby tournament around, the Rugby Championship’s future is uncertain. Domestic teams, the Cheetahs and the Kings from South Africa have recently joined the Pro14. This is an annual competition featuring teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy (and now South Africa).

There is uncertainty around the future of the Super Rugby competition, and rumours of a possible South African exclusion. If this does occur, it won’t come as a surprise if all South African domestic teams join Northern Hemisphere competitions. Time zone challenges will be a thing of the past (along with jet lag). One feels that if South African domestic competition plies its trade with Northern Hemisphere teams, it will only be a matter of time before the Springboks follow suit.

The Six Nations is a widely respected rugby tournament, should South Africa join however, the level of competition will increase substantially. The three times world champions would only bolster the already successful format. The real losers in all of this would be New Zealand and Australia. What comes of this, only time will tell.

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