Saturday, February 02, 2008


The tomfoolerous history of rugby's six nations championship

Having instituted the Home International Championships in 1882 (the organisers) singularly failed to implement any formal points system with the result that for a number of years there were angry disputes over who had actually won it. Perhaps in an attempt to limit the arguing, the predecessors of the men later characterised by England's grand slam captain Will Carling as "57 old farts" banned England from the competition in 1888 and 1889 and Wales in 1897 and 1898.

With the points system finally sorted out France were invited to join a competition that for two years had no name whatsoever. In 1910 it was the new boys who coined the term The Five Nations Championships. It did not remain five for long, however, as France were subsequently kicked into touch following allegations that their players had been concealing daggers down their socks. Shortly before their expulsion the always-innovative French had become the first rugby team to wear numbered shirts, at Murrayfield in 1929. Unfortunately this was little use to spectators, as the Scots didn't bother to print them in the match programme.

After France departed, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales went on competing. In those days honour alone was the prize because - for reasons best known to the organisers - the Five Nations didn't present a trophy to the champions until 1993. It had one trophy, of course, the Calcutta Cup but that was only for winners of the game between England and Scotland. Since the game went professional, however, trophies have proliferated. Ireland, for example, could pick up no fewer than three pieces of silverware this year should they beat Scotland (to lift the Centenary Quaich) and England (the Millennium Trophy) to win the title (the Championship Trophy). Italy and France, meanwhile, compete for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy. There are no prizes for beating Wales.

The heroism, the glory ... the cock-up
The Guardian, Friday February 1, 2008


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