Next week sees The RBS Six Nations Championship begin. The Championship is without doubt the world's greatest annual rugby (union) tournament. Each year the collective fans of six proud nations – England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales – share in the passion and excitement of this feast of rugby. Some of the rivalries in this tournament date back more than 140 years, which simply adds to the sense of occasion.
The first round of matches in the 122nd edition of Six Nations Championship are February 6th clashes (we didn’t think using the word fixture was appropriate) between France and Italy at the Stade de France in Paris, followed by Scotland taking on England at Murrayfield later the same day.
The following day, Ireland entertain Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin as they begin their defence of their Six Nations title.
It really is a competition that you have to hit the ground running in. With a round-robin tournament format one defeat and that could be the Championship over before it has even really started!
The final match of the tournament sees England travel to France on March 19th at the Stade de France, in what could be a title decider, although admittedly there is a lot of rugby to have been played before then. It is however not uncommon to see it go down to the last kick (or throw) of a ball in the final game. Just look at the last couple of years for example.
The 2014 tournament was one of the best we have seen in recent memory, and going into the final day, three teams could have still won the championship – Ireland, England and France. In the final game, Ireland hung on to win against France by just two points and secure the championship, on points difference over England.
And it was almost deja vu last year, as again going into the final set of matches 3 teams could win it (this time Ireland, England, and Wales), and it looked likely it was going to be settled via points difference……and that’s just what happened.
Wales played first and beat Italy by a margin of 41 points. Ireland played next and defeated Scotland by 30 clear points, which was enough to take them above the Welsh, and put one hand on the trophy. The final game was between England and France at Twickenham, and the maths was simply; England had to win the game by 26 points or more to claim the Championship, however they only won by 20, meaning that Ireland won consecutive Championships instead.
It’s now been 17 years since Scotland lifted the trophy, 3 years for Wales, 5 for England, and 6 for France, and the best finish newbies Italy have had since they joined the tournament in 2000 has been a 4th place finish in 2007 & 2013, but you know the fans of each country will accept nothing but the top spot. And what fans they are!
There was a record total attendance in 2015 of 1,040,680 which broke down to an impressive average of 69,379 per match, although with the noise generated you would have thought it was even more. You’d be hard pressed to find a sport with more passionate fans that these.
2016 marks the first year that the tournament will be broadcast across both the BBC and ITV in the United Kingdom, with the BBC broadcasting France, Scotland and Wales home matches and ITV screening England, Ireland and Italy home fixtures.
For further information about the tournament please see the official website.