The famous Irish stout beer company Guinness are the official 6 Nations sponsor for the 2023 Six Nations Championship, it will be the 3rd year in succession of a 6 year contract with the RFU after taking over from the Royal Bank of Scotland who previously sponsored this prestigious tournament for 14 years (2003-2017) and the NatWest Bank for 2018 only. The RFU has a lucrative deal that ensures funds to develop their Grassroots Program and build a rugby world cup winning team. However, before all the sponsor and business models were introduced rugby was considered an amateur sport up until 1995 when rugby turned professional and players started to earn and sign paid contracts for club and country. This modern approach saw the England team win the RWC in 2003 and appear in 3 further finals. The 6 Nations Championship has also developed into a successful competition and the stadiums are full to capacity for every game. The current competing national teams are: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy.
The 6 Nations competition started out as the Home Nations Championship, England, Wales, Scotland & Ireland as the existing four UK nations with the first match between them kicking off in 1883, in fact, this is the oldest rugby tournament in the world. It continued to be the Home Nations until France joined in 1910 and the tournament became known as the 5 Nations Championship and was played in this format until 1931. During the early Home Nations the England team did not take part in the 1888 and 1889 competitions as they were not members of the IRFB, (International Rugby Federation Board), the problem was resolved and England was once again admitted. Naturally, all tournaments were halted during WWI. Resuming in 1920 to then revert back to the Home Nations in 1932-1939 after France was expelled for paying players as professionals and not maintaining the amateur status required by rugby union regulations. This was an ongoing argument on being amateur or professional which is why many teams and players broke away from rugby union for the rugby league version and have pro-contracts for players who only had rugby as a source of income. Although France was reinstated in 1939 to the once more 5 Nations Championship it was suspended due to the outbreak of WWII.
1947, and the world’s oldest rugby tournament is back in action. The next 50 years of the 5 Nations saw teams peak and dominate in different periods. Ireland took the winning title the most in the 40s and early 50s while England and Wales collected the most cup wins in the 50s then France near the end of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. Scotland chalked up 4 Championship wins in total, 1964, ‘84, ‘90 and ’99. Wales and Ireland faded in the 50s and 60s but came back to dominate the 5 Nations in the 70s and 80s with England and France once again being the strongest teams in the 90s.
A new millennium and a new 6th team joins what is now to be called the 6 Nations Championship. Italy became a playing member in 2000 to the biggest and most distinguished rugby tournament in the northern hemisphere. Italy has yet to win the championship title and more often than not has been awarded the Wooden Spoon for finishing bottom in the final classification. Recently, this has prompted other rugby governing bodies to suggest an alternative to Italy with Georgia and Romania as suitable replacements or, indeed, to increase the tournament to the 8 Nations Championship. The debate on Italy’s place in the 6 Nations is still very much in the media.
As the 6 Nations has roots in the 1880s this well-established competition has seen the introduction of cups and trophies that teams compete for in the individual matches played in the 6 Nations itself. These extra awards are given at the end of each match with the overall championship cup at the end of the tournament called Super Saturday as all teams kick off at the same time in the last and most likely deciding matches. The awards up for grabs are:
6 Nations Champions – Awarded to the outright winner of 6 Nations
- Grand Slam – This is won by the team that beat all the other teams and did not suffer a loss or draw. Funnily enough, Wales was the first team to do this in 1908 and currently the last team to do this in 2019.
- Triple Crown – Given to the Home nation that won against all the other UK (Eng, Wal, Sco & Ire)
- Calcutta Cup – Disputed between England and Scotland during the 6 Nations, this is also the oldest cup award in rugby history, played yearly since 1872.
- Millennium Trophy – Awarded to the winner of Ireland v England match, introduced in 1988 as part of Dublin’s millennial festivities.
- Centenary Quaich – The Scottish Gaelic word quaich means ‘drinking vessel’ and this trophy goes to the winning team of Scotland v Ireland, introduced and contested annually since 1989.
- Guiseppe Garibaldi Trophy – This as the name implies is taken home by the victorious team of the fixture France v Italy. The trophy was designed by a Frenchman and dedicated to an Italian hero, hotly contested since 2007.
- Auld Alliance Trophy – This trophy pays homage to French and Scottish rugby players who lost their lives during WWI. Introduced in 2018, to mark a 100 years since the end of the Great War. Naturally, given in custody to the winner of the Scotland v France match.
- Dodi Weir Cup – This award too was instituted in 2018 honouring Dodi Weir, a Scottish national rugby player that was forced to retire when diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Dodi even with his mobility difficulties campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness and research funds in respect of his illness. Presented to the winning team of Scotland v Wales.
The Guinness 6 Nations Championship games attracts 80,000 plus spectators and fans per match plus a TV audience (an average of 9 million viewers per match from countries competing) which is forever increasing as more and more nations promote this noble sport and its core values still in effect since 1823 when rugby started. Countries such as Spain, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and even more surprising Moldavia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and Poland which holds an international rugby tournament, the Poland Rugby Festival, which sees teams from all over the world revel in a weekend of beer ‘n rugby in the true tradition and spirit you would expect and find in the more well-known rugby playing countries.
Rugby fans are the best fans in the world as you see the fans from both teams stood drinking beer together watching the match, so, if you are looking for an ideal and unusual Christmas present then buy tickets to a 6 Nations match and enjoy a splendid day out or weekend in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Dublin, Paris or La Bella Roma with top notch rugby to boot!