As rugby's most prestigious and historic championship, Six Nations 2018 is taking place throughout February and March. Following a tradition that has been in place since 1883, the NatWest-sponsored event is held over seven weekends (from 3rd February), culminating with 'Super Saturday' on 17th March.
England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and France are competing in the championship, which is rivalled only by the World Cup. The event was originally called the Home Nations Championship when it began in 1883. In the early days, only England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales took part. Initially, England and Scotland dominated the championship, until Wales won four consecutive titles between 1905 and 1909.
In 1939, the Home Nations took a break due to the outbreak of World War II. By this time, Scotland and Wales had won 11 titles each. It resumed after the war, and in 1947 it became known as the Five Nations, with France joining the competition.
France went on to dominate the championship in the 1960s and '70s, winning eight titles. In 2000, it was rebranded again into the format we know today, when Italy began competing for the first time. In the 21st century, England and France have dominated but Wales has made a comeback after winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. England won the title last year and will be hoping to repeat their victory in 2018.
Games will be played across Europe, with Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Twickenham, Cardiff's Principality Stadium, Stade de France, the Aviva Stadium and the Millennium Stadium all hosting matches.
Apart from the Six Nations Championship grand prize, the teams compete for other titles along the way. These include the Grand Slam - winning the championship without dropping a point - which Wales has succeeded in doing three times in the modern era.
The Triple Crown trophy involves England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who must win all the Home Nations matches to secure victory. Other trophies contested include the Millennium Trophy between Ireland and England, the Calcutta Cup when England and Scotland play each other, the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy between France and Italy, and the Centenary Quaich between Scotland and Ireland.
One of the players to watch this year, Jack Nowell of England plays full-back, wing or outside centre. He was part of the Exeter Chiefs' side who won their first premiership title in 2017, after Nowell's try-scoring performance in the Aviva Premiership Final.
He is currently preparing for the championship at the England training camp in Portugal, where head coach Eddie Jones has changed the schedule to compensate for two tough European weekends, which have cast doubts over a couple of players' fitness.
Henry Slade has suffered a shoulder injury, while prop Kyle Sinckler has pulled a hamstring. As a result of the mini pre-season tour, the revised training schedule has been aimed at freshening up the fatigued squad. A welcome addition to the team is Ben Te’o, who following ankle surgery last October, paid for his own intensive six-week rehab programme in Australia to ensure he was back to peak fitness for the Six Nations.
Ireland's Jordan Larmour (who plays for Leinster) is a utility player who can open up defences in a number of roles. As a full-back, he is thriving under Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt's more attacking blueprint. Scotland's Stuart Hogg is a Glasgow full-back. He was out of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand early on, due to a broken cheekbone. Now fighting fit, he will be a force to be reckoned with, with his significant counter-attacking talent.
The NatWest Six Nations 2018 kicks off on Saturday 3rd February, when Wales plays Scotland at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff – kick-off is at 2.15pm. France plays Ireland at the Stade de France at 5.45pm. England plays their first match on Sunday 4th February, when they face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico at 4pm.
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