Sunday, 14 March 2010

The History of the Rugby Union six nations

The Six Nations inspires fervour in the sporting world, unlike that of any other sporting event. Fans paint themselves in patriotic colours, buy up the stocks of the latest rugby shirts and travel from country to country to offer their team their unconditional support. It is a sport of the moment and has thrown itself, in all its vitality and glory, spectacularly into the 21st Century. But how many fans are aware of its colourful and sometimes controversial past?

The Six Nations is 126 years old. It began in 1882, when England travelled to Swansea; the importance of the occasion would not be realised until much later. As it was known then, the International Championship featured only England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and was far less organised than the standards set by today's games. The points system had not been structured at that time and teams were judged on a much more basic level: simply, whether they won or lost. Notwithstanding, the first match was won by England, who beat the Welsh by two goals and four tries to none. This first match ignited a spirit of pride and competition that swept the northern hemisphere.

However, the following series of matches were dogged by dispute and the games of 1885, 1887 and 1889 could not be completed. When the French joined in 1910, they initially struggled to perform with any distinction, triumphing in only one game over their first four years by beating Scotland by one point in 1911.

Three years later, the tournament was called to a halt until 1920 - thanks to the outbreak of the Great War. When it was re-established, it was again a source of dispute and violence: Welsh crowds repeatedly invaded the pitch and, on more than one occasion, threatened to lynch the referee. In the decade that followed the First World War, the French were expelled after players were exposed for carrying stiletto knives in their socks. The team were again ousted in 1931, after a number of their team were found to have been paid at club level.

The tournament was again postponed as the result of another war; this time, World War 2. The championship did not see play for seven years, from the eruption of the War in 1940.

In the 1950's, however, France had left its scurrilous past behind and underwent a renaissance of their game, sharing the title in 1954 and winning out-and-out in 1959.

The 1970's were a golden era for the proud Welsh nation. During that decade they achieved three Grand Slams and a triple crown, establishing them as a force to be reckoned with. The French rose again in the eighties, winning outright on no less than three occasions.

England joined France in the 90's as the tournament's main aggressors, but this led to speculation that the standard of competition was not high enough. In turn, this led to Italy being invited to join in 2000 and the Six Nations was officially borne.

Now, the tournament has produced a new generation of rugby fans and inspired a merchandise industry that can put football to shame. Dedicated fans scour websites, such as, determined to display their pride in any way they can. Once again the northern hemisphere will be awash with rugby shirts, polo shirts and caps as fans offer homage to the sporting giants that represent them.

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