Six Nations: A look into the history of Rugby’s Greatest Championship

Six Nations trophy Credit: Alamy
Six Nations trophy Credit: Alamy

The Six Nations is one of the most important tournaments in the rugby union calendar, bringing together some of the best rugby teams throughout Europe. Every year England, Wales, Ireland, France, Scotland and Italy compete to win the coveted trophy.

The championship itself has gone through a significant number of changes since it began. Originally named the Home Nations Championship in 1883, the competition grew immeasurably over a century before it reached its current format in 2000 when Italy joined the Five Nations.

Below, Planet Rugby looks back at the history of the Six Nations in more detail.

Early history

Six Nations began in 1883 when England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales started competing in what was known as the ‘Home Nations Championship’.

England and Scotland won the first two years of the tournament before Wales clinched the title no less than four times between 1905 and 1909. By the time the Home Nations ended in 1939, both Wales and Scotland had won 11 championships each.

During WWII

During the war between 1940 and 1946, rugby and many other sports were put on hold. When it finally returned in 1947, the Home Nations became the Five Nations with the introduction of France, who joined the championship. However, Les Bleus took a few years before they finally gained victory in 1954, sharing the title with England and Wales.


During the 1960s and 1970s, France really came into their own, with Les Bleus winning eight titles. The Five Nations continued in the same format for four decades until the new millennium when it was rebranded once again to the tournament we know today – Six Nations. This time it was the introduction of Italy that initiated the expansion and the new title.

Millennium onwards

Since its expansion, Italy have not enjoyed any championship success in the Six Nations, while France and England have both won the trophy six and seven times, respectively.

The emergence of Wales winning the tournament in 2005, 2008 and then back-to-back in 2012 and 2013 and also in 2021 added a new dimension to the competition.

Ireland have followed closely behind Wales with four wins to date in 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2018. Meanwhile, Scotland has not claimed the title since the Five Nations in 1999.

Additional trophies

Aside from the main championship, there are lots of smaller battles between sides with trophies to be won. The main goal for any aspiring champion is to secure a Grand Slam – winning a championship by winning all their matches. There is also a homage to the Home Nations, involving Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England – the winner of all home nations matches receives the Triple Crown.

In addition to this, there are a series of smaller trophies contested between the teams, including the Calcutta Cup between England and Scotland, the Doddie Weir Cup between Scotland and Wales, the Millennium Trophy between England and Ireland, the Centenary Quaich between Ireland and Scotland and the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy between France and Italy.

The Six Nations rugby matches are played across Europe, with Twickenham, Stade de France, the Aviva Stadium, the Principality Stadium and Stadio Olimpico all hosting matches during the tournament.

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