The History Of The 6 Nations Rugby Championships
, 6 min reading time
, 6 min reading time
The 6 Nations Rugby Championship has only been called the ‘6 Nations’ since the year 2000. This was the year when Italy joined the competition. It originally started in 1882 and was known as the Home Nations Championships. Chiefly because it was held between the 4 home nation countries; England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. France joined the championship in 1910 to make it the 5 nations. This is how the tournament remained until Italy joined in the year 2000.
England and Scotland were the most dominant teams early on in the championship. During the 1890’s Wales formed a formidable side and had started using a different playing system to the other teams. Although they probably didn’t realise how this would influence the way rugby would be played in the future. Instead of having six backs and nine forwards, Wales came up with the idea of having two wingers, two centres, 2 fullbacks and leaving just 8 forwards. This system eventually became the standard for all club and national rugby teams to follow.
The actual game of rugby was growing in popularity as we entered the 1900’s. Wales were the team to beat and remained unbeaten at home during 1900-1913. This was prior to England became a dominant force once again. In 1910 the home of England rugby was created - Twickenham Stadium. This is where England developed a ground where they became very difficult to beat. They managed to win their first international game at the new stadium against Wales. 1910 also saw France join the championship and the name ‘Five Nations’ was created. Whilst France struggled initially, they did manage one win in 1911 against Scotland with a one point win.
Due to the war in 1914 the championship had to be put on hold until 1920. England were the most successful team after the war and they managed to secure nine championship victories. This included an amazing five grand slams. Scotland won their 1st Grand Slam when beating England at Murrayfield in 1925. They also went on to be the first home union side to beat England at Twickenham. Which even in the early days had started to become a fortress for English rugby.
France had struggled to compete with the home nations initially. Meanwhile in 1931 it was revealed that a number of French players had been getting paid to play at club level. To emphasize this was not permitted at this time. With this breach in the rules France were expelled from the championship for 8 years. At this point the Home Nation Championships was back in action. However due to World War II breaking out France were then unable to rejoin until the championship restarted in 1947. This year was the start of a new rugby order.
Ireland started the strongest and hit the front in the early years after the war. Taking three titles including consecutive Triple Crowns in 1948 and in 1949. France also returned a vastly improved team and shared the title in 1954 and 1955. In 1959 France went on to win it outright for the first time. They were crowned champions four years in a row from 1959-1962. In 1968 they successfully secured their first grand slam win.
The 1970’s really became the decade for Welsh rugby, finishing the decade with three Grand Slams and five Triple Crown. With only France being able to prevent them from securing a fourth Grand Slam. Wales became the team at the top that everyone aspired to beat. With only 1 Grand Slam since the 5 Nations restarted in 1957, England had to wait until 1980 to secure their next. During the 1980's France became a dominant force. Winning the five nations three times and securing the Grand Slam in 1981 and 1987. In 1984 Scotland secured their first Grand Slam for 59 years. They repeated this 6 years later in 1990. Sadly they are still waiting for their next. However as they now have an improving younger squad of players. As such they might not have to wait as long for the next one.
During the 1990’s it really became a two team battle between England and France. They won 7 of the 10, 5 Nations Championships between them. At this point their dominance raised questions as to the quality of opposition. Many pundits suggested that the championship was simply not at a high enough standard of competition.
Italy formally joined the championship in the year 2000 and the ‘6 Nations Championship’ was born. Italy started their first tournament with a bang beating Scotland in Rome in their first home game. However it was not until 2007 that they would secure their best finish of fourth place. With back to back wins against Wales and Scotland. Since joining in 2000 Italy have 'won' the wooden spoon 14 times from 20. So, not sure how introducing them improved the quality of the competition. But, it did mean all teams played every round and raised the interest across Europe.
Currently the teams are much more evenly matched thanks to the high levels of club rugby all of the players play. Improved physical conditioning added to the mix and the fact that a lot of them are team mates makes for some very interesting confrontations. Overall it is a show of excellent rugby great atmospheres and most game sell out months ahead of the fixtures. Following a fascinating Rugby World Cup where England lost in the final, Wales made the semi's after beating France narrowly in the quarters.
The strength of this years tournament is as good as any other. However Italy need to make some improvements as further calls are being made to remove them. Maybe even having promotion and relegation is being suggested. Imagine the cries though, should one of the other 6 finish bottom of the table.