The Six Nations Championship is an annual international rugby union competition between the national men’s teams of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
The tournament originated as the Home Nations Championship in 1883, contested annually between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It was later expanded to become the Five Nations Championship in 1910 with the addition of France. The competition was further expanded in 2000 to become the Six Nations Championship with Italy joining to make it a six team tournament.
The format has remained largely consistent since 1910, with each team playing every other team once each year. The country that finishes with the most points at the end of all the matches is declared the champion. While the fundamental format has remained the same over more than 100 years, some elements such as scoring systems and tiebreakers have evolved over time.
The Six Nations Championship has its roots in the oldest major international rugby tournament and has grown into one of the most prestigious competitions in the sport. It features some of the top national teams in the rugby world and intense rivalries given the geographic proximity of the participating nations. The addition of Italy brought in a new dynamic, with the established Home Nation teams competing against a growing Italian side.
The Winslow is a Rugby Bar in NYC that will be showing all the matches opening up 30 minutes early if necessary.
Six teams compete annually for the Six Nations Championship:
- England – One of the four Home Nations that founded the original tournament in 1883. England has won the championship 29 times, the most of any team. Nicknamed the Red Rose.
- France – Joined the competition in 1910 when it became the Five Nations. Les Bleus have won the title 17 times.
- Ireland – Another original Home Nation, Ireland plays as a united team representing both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Green Shirts have 15 championship titles.
- Italy – The newest member of the competition, Italy joined in 2000 to make it the Six Nations. The Azzurri are yet to win the tournament.
- Scotland – The Scots are one of the four Home Nations at the genesis of this championship. Their best finish is 4 titles. Nickname is the Thistle.
- Wales – Along with England, Ireland, and Scotland, Wales is a founding nation. They are tied with England for most titles at 39. Known as the Dragons.
The Six Nations Championship utilises a round robin format where each team plays every other team once. This results in a total of 15 matches played throughout the tournament.
The schedule is organised so that each team has 3 home matches and 2 away matches. The home and away pattern rotates each year, ensuring that no team gains an unfair advantage through the fixture list.
Matches take place on five weekends between early February and mid March. The schedule allows for rest weekends to prevent player burnout.
The round robin format means that the most consistent team across all matches will emerge victorious. Teams cannot afford slip ups since each match carries equal weight in the overall standings. This creates consistently competitive and unpredictable matches as the tournament unfolds.
The format rewards sustained quality through a gruelling five week schedule. Winning the title requires peak physical conditioning and mental strength in addition to rugby skills and tactics.
Scoring and Rankings
The Six Nations uses a points system to determine the rankings and winner of the tournament. Teams are awarded:
- 4 points for a win
- 2 points for a draw
- 0 points for a loss
Bonus points are also awarded:
- 1 bonus point for scoring 4 or more tries in a match
- 1 bonus point for losing by 7 points or less
Additionally, if a team wins all 5 of their matches (a Grand Slam), they receive 3 bonus points.
The points system aims to encourage attacking rugby through the try bonus point. It also keeps matches competitive to the end, as teams may chase a losing bonus point even if they cannot win the match.
If teams are tied on match points at the end of the tournament, the first tiebreaker is points difference (total points scored minus total points conceded). If points difference cannot separate the teams, then the tiebreaker is tries scored.
The new bonus point system was introduced in 2017 to bring more excitement and reward all-around play. Prior to this, the Six Nations used a simpler system of 2 points for a win and 1 point for a draw.
The points system has led to closer championships recently, with more teams in contention on the final weekend. It rewards well-rounded teams that can both score many points and defend staunchly.
The Grand Slam is achieved when one nation manages to beat all the others during the Six Nations Championship. This is a notable feat, as it requires a team to win five matches in a row against some of the top rugby playing nations in the world.
The first Grand Slam winners were England in the 1921 Five Nations Championship. Since then there have been several other Grand Slam winners:
- Wales have achieved the Grand Slam on 12 occasions, most recently in 2019. Their first was in 1908.
- England have managed 13 Grand Slams over the history of the tournament. The most recent was in 2016.
- France have 9 Grand Slams to their name, with their first in 1968 and most recent in 2010.
- Ireland have managed 4 Grand Slams, in 1948, 2009, 2018 and 2022.
The Triple Crown can only be achieved by England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales when one of those teams defeats the other three in that season’s tournament. It was first won by Ireland in the 1894 Home Nations Championship. England have achieved the Triple Crown 26 times, Wales 24 times, Scotland 15 times and Ireland 12 times. Ireland are the current Triple Crown holders after beating England, Scotland and Wales in the 2022 Six Nations.
Trophies and Awards
The winners of the Six Nations are presented with the Championship Trophy. This was originally conceived by the Earl of Westmorland, and was first presented to the winners of the 1993 championship, 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.
The trophy 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 alternative finials, each a silver replica of one of the team emblems, which can be screwed on the detachable lid.
In addition to the Championship Trophy, there are several other trophies contested:
- The Calcutta Cup is awarded to the winner of the England vs Scotland match. It is the oldest such trophy, first contested in 1879. It was made from melted-down Indian rupees donated by the Calcutta Club.
- The Millennium Trophy is contested between England and Ireland since 1988. It was presented to celebrate Dublin’s millennium that year.
- The Centenary Quaich is awarded to the winner of the Ireland vs Scotland match. It has been contested since 1989 and marked the centenary of the founding of the International Rugby Football Board.
- The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy goes to the winner of the France vs Italy match. It was introduced in 2007 and commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Garibaldi.
- The Auld Alliance Trophy is contested between France and Scotland since 2018, in memory of the war dead from the rugby communities of those countries.
- The Doddie Weir Cup is awarded to the winner of the Wales vs Scotland match since 2018, in recognition of Doddie Weir who founded a foundation supporting research into motor neuron disease.
The Six Nations matches take place in the national rugby stadiums of the participating countries.
England’s matches are held at Twickenham Stadium in London, which has a capacity of over 82,000 spectators. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff hosts Wales’ home matches. With a capacity of nearly 74,000, it is the second largest stadium in the tournament.
Scotland’s home venue is Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, which can accommodate 67,000 fans. Ireland’s national stadium is the Aviva Stadium in Dublin with a capacity of 51,700.
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome is Italy’s national stadium. It can hold over 72,000 spectators. France is the only country that does not play its home matches at its usual national stadium. Their home Six Nations matches take place at various large stadiums around France, including the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon and the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.
The Six Nations Championship is broadcast live on television and online around the world. The primary rights holders are the BBC and ITV in the UK and Ireland, and France Télévisions in France.
Where to Watch on TV
- UK & Ireland – All matches are broadcast live on BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV. Usually Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales home matches are shown on BBC One or ITV, with away matches on BBC Two. France home matches tend to be on ITV.
- France – All matches are broadcast on France 2.
- Italy – Matches are aired on DMAX, a channel owned by Discovery.
- United States – NBC Sports has the rights to air all matches live.
- Canada – TSN has exclusive rights to broadcast the Six Nations.
- Australia – beIN Sports shows every game live.
- New Zealand – Sky Sport NZ airs all matches live.
How to Stream Online
- BBC – Available on BBC iPlayer in the UK. Requires a TV licence.
- ITV – The ITV Hub streams matches online in the UK. Account registration needed.
- NBC Sports – Live streams available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app (cable subscription required).
- RugbyPass – Streams all matches in various worldwide territories with a paid subscription.
- Six Nations Rugby – Official tournament streaming available in certain regions on sixnationsrugby.com.
With widespread coverage across major rugby nations, the Six Nations enjoys a large television audience and is one of the most watched rugby tournaments in the world. Fans can easily follow the action and cheer on their team.
Impact and Popularity
The Six Nations Championship is one of the most prestigious and hotly contested rugby union tournaments in the world. It has a massive global audience and helps generate significant revenue for the sport.
- The Six Nations is broadcast to over 100 countries and territories worldwide. In 2022, the total cumulative audience reached over 100 million viewers.
- The competition consistently attracts high attendance numbers. In 2022, over 1.2 million spectators attended matches across the six venues. Average attendance exceeded 60,000 per game.
- Revenue from the Six Nations helps fund rugby union at all levels in the participating countries. In 2019, the tournament generated over £100 million in commercial revenue. Television rights deals account for a significant portion of this income.
- The Six Nations has become a major cultural and sporting event, especially in the competing nations. Huge numbers of fans travel abroad to support their team. Local economies receive a boost during the tournament.
- Being one of Europe’s premier international rugby competitions, success in the Six Nations is a matter of national pride. Victory is hugely celebrated, while defeat generates intense scrutiny and analysis.
- The tournament’s long history and storied rivalries, like England vs Wales, add to its prestige. Generations of fans have memories attached to the competition.
- Several of rugby’s iconic moments have occurred during the Six Nations, etching certain games into folklore. This adds to the tournament’s legacy and appeal.
The immense popularity of the Six Nations Championship demonstrates how rugby union has expanded from an amateur sport of the early 20th century into a commercialised, professional game with an international following and stature. The tournament’s revenue and viewership figures reflect this growth.
The 2024 Six Nations Championship promises excitement as the northern hemisphere’s top teams battle for the title.
The tournament kicks off on 4 February 2024 with defending champions Ireland hosting Wales in Dublin. England, under new coach Steve Borthwick, will look to start strong against perennial underdogs Italy at Twickenham.
The second weekend sees the tournament’s oldest rivalry clash when England and Scotland meet at Murrayfield. France will host Ireland in what could be a Six Nations final preview. Italy travels to Cardiff looking to avoid another thrashing against Wales.
In week three, Ireland hosts Italy while England plays host to Wales. Scotland will take on France at Murrayfield in a fixture that could determine who challenges Ireland for the title.
The fourth round kicks off with England hosting Ireland at Twickenham in a pivotal match. France will host Scotland before traveling to Wales, while Italy hosts Scotland in Rome.
The 2024 Championship concludes with Super Saturday on 16 March. Ireland will look to clinch the title in Rome against Italy. England travel to Edinburgh needing a win over Scotland and an Irish loss to take the trophy. Meanwhile, France and Wales clash in what could be a straight shootout for the runner-up position.
With intense rivalries and several contenders in the mix, the 2024 Six Nations promises to deliver drama and suspense up to the final whistle. Ireland are favored but England and France lurk as dark horse challengers for the title.