The Six Nations Championship is an annual international rugby union competition involving six European sides: England,France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. It is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Guinness.
The Six Nations is the successor to the Five Nations Championship (1910–31 and 1947–99) which in turn succeeded the Home Nations Championship (1883–1909 and 1932–39). The Home Nations Championship, played between teams from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, was the first international rugby union tournament.The winners of the Six Nations Championship are sometimes unofficially referred to in the media as the European Champions or Northern Hemisphere Champions. Ireland are the 2015 champions, having finished on equal table points with Wales and England but winning the trophy by virtue of achieving a higher match points difference.
England and Wales are the joint record holders for outright wins of the Home Nations, Five Nations and Six Nations tournaments, with 26 titles each, although Wales add to that record with 12 shared victories to England's 10. Since the Six Nations era started in 2000, only Italy and Scotland have failed to win the Six Nations title, although Scotland were the last outright winners of the Five Nations.
Played annually, the format of the Championship is simple: each team plays every other team once (making for a total of 15 matches), with home field advantage alternating from one year to the next. Two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. Unlike many other rugby union competitions the bonus point system is not used.
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'. Although this achievement has long been a feature of the tournament, it was not until 2006 that a physical Triple Crown trophy was awarded. At the end of the tournament 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 ten (although each of the other five nations has accumulated more than that through competing in previous eras).
Several individual competitions take place under the umbrella of the tournament. The oldest such regular competition is for the Calcutta Cup, contested annually between England and Scotland since 1879. It is named the Calcutta Cup as it is made from melted-down Indian Rupees donated by the Calcutta Club. Since 1988, the Millennium Trophy has been awarded to the winner of the game between England and Ireland, and since 1989 the Centenary Quaich has been awarded to the winner of the game between Ireland and Scotland. Since 2007, France and Italy have contested the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy; it was created for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian hero who helped unify Italy and volunteer in the French Republican Army against Prussia.
Prior to 1994, teams equal on points shared the championship. Since then, ties have been broken by considering the points difference of the teams. The rules of the championship further provide that if teams tie on both match points and points difference, the team which scored the most tries wins the championship. Were this decider be a tie, the tying teams would share the championship. To date, however, match points and points difference have been sufficient to decide the championship.