The annual Six Nations Tournament kicks off the Irish sporting calendar in style - see sweaty man beating the living daylights out of each other while trying to win a Grand Slam, or at least a Triple Crown, settling old scores and putting the fear of god into anyone not Irish ... it is also called "rugby". Here is the quick guide to the Six Nations, home nations and guests from the Continent included:
Why is the Tournament Called "The Six Nations"?
Have a wild guess ... yes, because six nations are in it: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The "Home Nations" are England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
How Old is the Tournament?
Old ... but it all depends. It started off as the "Home Nations Tournament" between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. First played in 1883, this is regarded as the first international rugby tournament in the northern hemisphere. Then came the "Five Nations", France joining the fray in 1910. After some ups and downs the tournament expanded again, in 2000 Italy went into the competition kicking and screaming.
In short: While the Six Nations proper is a strictly 21st century tournament, its roots lie in Victorian times.
When Ireland Plays ... Who Plays?
In rugby, Ireland has only one national squad drawn from all over the island and not bound to the two political nations - players can be from Northern Ireland or from the Republic. This ignores the partition of Ireland and has led to a problem with the national anthem. Solved by Phil Coulter in 1995 through "Ireland's Call" - an Ersatz-anthem that stirs the heart nonetheless. It has since been adopted in other sports as well, notably cricket. Normally, when Northern Ireland plays, the UK anthem ("God Save ...") would be used ... or sometimes the Londonderry Air ("Danny Boy").
Be in It to Win ... What?
Obviously everybody wants to win the Six nations, claim the Championship Trophy. And this is pulled off by being the best team overall. Every nation has to face the other five, once only. There are no eliminations, no finals, it is all down to aggregate points.
But there are more trophies and honours to carry away:
- The Grand Slam - this means winning the Championship trophy by beating all other teams. As hard as this sounds, it is not at all impossible ... more than half the Championships Trophies between 2000 and 2011 were won as a Grand Slam!
- The Triple Crown - now this is a home nations thing: Whoever manages to beat all other home nations wins a Triple Crown (obviously included in a Grand Slam by any home nation then). Up to 2006 no trophy was actually awarded, hence the Triple Crown is historically known as "the invisible cup".
- The Calcutta Cup - awarded to the winner of the England vs. Scotland game. This is actually older than the Six Nations, having first been awarded in 1879.
- The Millennium Trophy - awarded to the winner of the Ireland vs. England game, first played for during the Dublin millennium celebrations in 1988.
- The Centenary Quaich - awarded to the winner of the Ireland vs. Scotland game, first awarded in 1989.
- The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy - awarded in memory of Garibaldi to the winner of the France vs. Italy game since 2007.
- the Wooden Spoon - the "trophy" taken home by the team that finishes in the bottom rank ...
Just How Successful are the Nations Then?
It is a mixed bag ... here are some statistics (and to be fair these are only for the sixty Six Nations games 2000 to 2013 proper):
- France are the overall most successful team with 96 points and five tournament wins. Three of those wins were Grand Slams. Due to a disastrous 2013 season, France also collected a Wooden Spoon.
- England, is in second place with 95 points, managed to win no less than four tournaments. Only one Grand Slam, though. As to Triple Crowns - only two.
- Ireland slid from second place to third place in 2013, overall points 92. One tournament win (a Grand Slam). Ireland also managed to win four Triple Crowns.
- Wales added a fourth tournament win in 2013, three were Grand Slams, but as to overall points have only scored 76. In addition, Wales also won three Triple Crowns. And one Wooden Spoon. It is somehow confusing that among the Home Nations, the Welsh are the most successful (measured in by the Triple Crown), yet overall are trailing behind.
- Scotland managed to win 38 points. No tournament win, no Triple Crown, three Wooden Spoons.
- Italy surprised everybody by finishing in fourth place in 2013, but still trails all other nations with only 23 points. As to trophies ... nine Wooden Spoons.