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A Brief History of The Six Nations

A Brief History of The Six Nations - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

It’s the most wonderful time of the year; The Six Nations is back! Five weeks of rugby kicks off on Saturday, the perfect cure for the winter blues. 

To celebrate, we're looking at the tournament's history and the twists and turns it took to become the Six Nations we know today.

the flags of England, France, Wales, Italy, Ireland and Scotland fly either side of the crossbar

When did the Six Nations start?

The Six Nations has a rich history. The tournament has existed since the 1800s but has only been known as the Six Nations since 2000. 

The tournament began in 1883 as The Home Nations and comprised England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. England won the first series, claiming the first Triple Crown. However, they were excluded from the tournament in 1888 and 1889 due to their refusal to join the International Rugby Football Board. 

After joining four tournaments, France officially joined in 1910, and the tournament became known as the Five Nations. However, France was later ejected from the tournament in 1931 following the war, and the competition reverted to the Home Nations until 1939, when war broke out for a second time. 

In 1947, the tournament was back, and so was France. This time they were here to stay. Les Bleus had a rocky time initially but finally won outright for the first time in 1959. This really got the ball rolling for France, and they went on to win a further eight times through the 60s and 70s.

The Five Nations grew in popularity through the 20th century, yet no physical trophy existed until 1993. 

In 1999, Scotland lifted the final Five Nations trophy as Italy joined in 2000, forming today's Six Nations championship.  

Trophies within the Six Nations tournament 

Grand Slam

The Grand Slam is awarded when a team wins all matches without dropping a point. This has happened 40 times in the history of the tournament. First in the Home Nations in 1908 by Wales, and most recently in the 2022 tournament by France.

Triple Crown

The Triple Crown is a homage to the old Home Nations tournament. It is won if England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales wins all matches against the others. It was last won in 2022 by Ireland. 

Calcutta Cup

The Calcutta Cup is contested by Scotland and England. It is the oldest of all the trophies in  the Six Nations tournament, first awarded in 1879. Following their win against England in the 2022 Six Nations, Scotland currently holds the trophy. 

Millennium Trophy

The Millennium Trophy was first contested in 1988. It's an annual trophy played between England and Ireland, first initiated as part of Dublin’s millennial celebrations. England have won this trophy 20 times, and Ireland have won 15 times. They are also the current holders. 

Centenary Quaich 

A quaich is a Gaelic drinking vessel that is presented to the winner of the Ireland vs Scotland fixture of the Six Nations. The quaich was first won by Scotland in 1989. Since then, Scotland have won it 14 times, and Ireland have won 19 times and are the current holders. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy

Awarded annually since 2007, this trophy celebrates the life of Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian revolutionary who played a pivotal role in the unification of Italy. The trophy is contested between Italy and France. Italy haven’t had much luck in this fixture, with only 2 wins against France’s 14. 

Auld Alliance Trophy

One of the more recent additions to the Six Nations, the Auld Alliance trophy was first introduced in 2018. The trophy is awarded to the France vs Scotland fixture winner, commemorating the French and Scottish rugby players who died during the First World War. France currently holds the trophy. 

Doddie Weir Cup 

Also introduced in 2018, this cup commemorates former Scottish international Doddie Weir. Scotland and Wales contest the cup to raise awareness of motor neurone disease. Weir, unfortunately, suffered from MND before his death, aged 52. Wales currently holds the Doddie Weir Cup. 

Cuttitta Cup 

This is the most recent addition to the Six Nations trophies. The Cuttitta Cup was introduced in 2022, and it's contested between Italy and Scotland. The Cup commemorates the former Italy captain and Scotland scrum coach Massimo Cuttitta who died of Covid in 2021 aged 54. The introduction of this cup means that Scotland competes for a trophy in each of the Six Nations fixtures; Calcutta Cup against England, Centenary Quaich against Ireland, Auld Alliance Cup against France and the Doddie Weir Cup against Wales.

The Wooden Spoon

This is a "trophy" given to the team who places last in many sporting tournaments. There is no physical wooden spoon trophy in the Six Nations; it’s meant to be lighthearted. Italy have “held” this trophy for the last seven years. Ouch.  

patches showing the flags of France, Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and Italy surround a rugby ball

Which Six Nations team is most successful?

The easiest answer to this question is England. They’ve won 7 tournaments since the first Six Nations competition in 2000. They have amassed the most bonus points of all participating countries, with an impressive win rate of 84% when playing in their home stadium, Twickenham. 

a moody, gloomy sky over Twickenham stadium

However, the other nations have plenty to shout about, with some impressive stats 

  • Wales and France share the most Grand Slams, with four each. 
  • Ireland have the best away winning percentage of 56%.
  • England have conceded the least tries of the nations, just 128. 

Some stats that the teams would prefer to keep quiet:

  • Scotland have the most losing bonus points with 22. 
  • Italy have the most wooden spoons with a total of 14. 
  • Italy have won only 12 of their 100 matches since joining the tournament in 2000. 

Six Nations (2000 - Present) 

Nation

Wins

Grand Slams

England

7

2

France

6

4

Wales

6

4

Ireland

4

3

Scotland

0

0

Italy 

0

0

 

A note on shared wins 

Until 1994, it had been possible for teams to share the tournament title. It wasn’t uncommon for two, even three teams to share the win. However, with three shared wins in the 1980s, it was decided that the rules had to be changed, and points difference was introduced in 1994. 

This means a sole winner can be crowned based on points difference or tries scored. Whilst highly unlikely, there’s still a chance for a tie. In fact, in 2021, there was nearly a tie situation for the first time since points difference came into play. 

As France went into their postponed game against Scotland, a huge list of permutations would determine who would be crowned champions. One was that if France scored exactly five tries and beat Scotland by exactly 20 points, they would be completely level with Wales with nothing to separate them, and the title would be shared. 

As it happened, France and Wales were the last two teams to share a title back in 1988. This circumstance never came to fruition, and Wales eventually claimed the title. 

Five Nations (1910 - 1999) 

Nation

Outright Wins (Shared Wins)

Grand Slams

England

17 (6)

11

Wales

15 (8)

6

France

12 (8)

6

Ireland

6 (5)

1

Scotland

5 (6)

3

 

Show your support!

Ready to back your team? Get kitted out with Absolute Rugby! We’ve got an amazing range, including vintage jerseys from Ellis Rugby.

a vintage France rugby jersey

France 1968 Grand Slam Shirt 

Check out our Six Nations shirts and clothing collection for more up-to-date options. Discover stylish merchandise from Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy. From replica jerseys to official shirts and kids' sizes available, the whole family can get behind your favourite team in this tournament! 

a striking red wales rugby top

Wales 22/23 Replica Shirt 

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