Kieran’s Irish pub in Minneapolis will once again be showing this year’s Six Nations Rugby Championship. Many people attending the Six Nations for the first time are pleasantly surprised how competitive and tribal the fans are and yet how good natured everybody behaves. For people uninitiated in the tournament it would be appropriate to give a brief synopsis of the history of the competition.
The Six Nations Rugby Championship is an annual international competition involving six European countries: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The current Champions are England, having won the 2017 Tournament. The winners of the Six Nations Championship are sometimes unofficially referred to in the media as the European Champions or Northern Hemisphere Champions.
The Six Nations has evolved over the years since its inception in the mid-19th century.
- Home Nations Championship (1883-1909), England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
- Five Nations Championship (1910-1999), France entered the tournament
- Six Nations Championship (2000-present), Italy entered the tournament.
The first Rugby International was played on 27 March 1871 between England and Scotland in Edinburgh (Scotland won)
Current World Rankings (New Zealand #1)
- 3. Ireland
- South Africa
If a team wins all its games, they are said to have won a “Grand Slam”. Victory by any home nation over the other three Home Nations is a “Triple Crown”.
England are the record holders for outright wins of the Home Nations, Five Nations and Six Nations tournaments, with 28 titles. Since the Six Nations era started in 2000, only Italy and Scotland have failed to win the Six Nations title, although Scotland was the last outright winners of the Five Nations.
Also, the team that finishes at the bottom of the league table is said to have “won” the “wooden spoon”, although no actual trophy is given to the team. A team which has lost all five matches is said to have been “whitewashed”. Since the inaugural Six Nations tournament in 2000, only England and Ireland have avoided the Wooden Spoon award. Italy are the holders of the most Wooden Spoon awards in the Six Nations era with twelve, and have been whitewashed six times.
The 2017Six Nations Championship introduced a bonus-point system to “encourage and reward try scoring and attacking play”. In previous seasons it was two points for a win, but that changed last season when two points become four – plus a bonus point for four or more tries. A losing team could pick up two bonus points – one if they score four or more tries and another if they lose by fewer than seven points. A team that wins the Grand Slam – all five games – gets three extra points. Teams that draw will now get two points each with a similar bonus point available for high scoring.
John Feehan, chief executive of Six Nations said before the 2017 tournament : “The drama and excitement of the last weekend of the Six Nations championship is unique and is, more often than not, driven by a number of teams on equal championship points all competing for first place on the table. “It is important for us to ensure that any bonus point system which is implemented would not, in any way, take away from this unique dynamic. “At the same time, we are also conscious that we must reward try scoring and an attacking style of play that will deliver more tries and greater rewards for fans and players alike.”
The most contentious issue surrounding this annual rugby festival is the question of promotion and relegation from the six. If the Six Nations committee and the International Rugby Board (IRB) are seriously and genuinely concerned about development, then a change in format is required. And just to give you a prime example. Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000 and have finished bottom on 12 occasions. In all, the “azzurri” have lost 77 of their 90 games in the tournament. Visiting the “eternal city” to watch Rugby can be a wonderful event and who does not want to escape a chilly British Isles in February and March? However, much more is at stake.
The performances of Georgia and Romania in the 2015 Rugby World Cup have increased the pressure on the Six Nations committee. Georgia won 2 games and lost 2 games in their group. Romania won 1 and lost 3, however, it’s worth noting they played France, Ireland and Italy in group D. They lost all three. An old coaching mentor back in the U.K once said “to develop, progress and succeed you need to play tough games.” In 2016 more than 50,000 people saw Georgia beat Romania 38-9 in the European Nations Cup. The two teams have shared the last ten tournaments, with Georgia winning the last six in a row. Visiting Tiblisi in March would require greater sartorial considerations than strolling around the coliseum, however, those are not the points to consider. The Georgians are currently ranked 12th in the World and notably sit the Italians, annual “wooden spoon” winners. Georgia’s second place finish in the 2015 European Under-18 Championship, which by the way included the Six Nations teams, adds further cause for conversation
Naturally, all these words, conjecture and opinions don’t sit easily in stout Italian hearts and minds. The inspirational Italian and one of the greatest players in World Rugby, Sergio Parrise, made this statement in a BBC interview prior to the 2017 tournament. “You think a federation like Ireland or France is going to take a risk? Or is it just because we are Italy”? With all due respect to the great Italian warrior; once again there is more at stake. Parrise continued to defend Italy’s position in the same interview, but in this writers opinion he actually strengthened Georgia’s cause. “I think we need to remember what has happened in the past” continued Parrise.” We are really respectful of all the nations like Georgia and Romania and at their level they show a lot of progress but they haven’t got the results we have. They haven’t beaten France, they haven’t beaten Ireland twice”. On the face of that statement the Italians provide a seemingly powerful counter argument. However, all is not what it seems.
These above mentioned victories span 18 years and the Italians are placing emphasis on one off performances rather than any consistent improvement. Sergio Parrise is correct in making the assertion that Georgia has not beaten France and Ireland. There is a good reason for that: they don’t play these teams outside a World Cup every four years. Italy, on the other hand, plays against these teams every year. Something the Georgians would dearly love to do
The Six Nations always brings to the table more than their fair share of talking points. However, what is undeniable is the enjoyment that is always brings. We eagerly await this year’s tournament once again. It also brings wonderful entertainment. And we hope to see you all at Kierans’s.