Whenever England play any of the other Home Unions, it is always a big deal due to historical differences.

But the oldest, and perhaps the fiercest, of all the rivalries, is when they meet Scotland annually for the Calcutta Cup.

The teams have competed for the 45cm-high cup, crafted from 27 melted down rupees, since 1879, with England winning 71 of the 127 matches played to Scotland’s 40. In the event of a draw, of which there have been 16, the holder retains the trophy.

Over the years, the silver cup ornately decorated with three king cobra handles and an Indian elephant on the circular lid has become as battered and bruised as the participants in the match itself.

Scotland’s John Jeffrey and England’s Dean Richards famously used it as a makeshift ball on a drunken night out on Princes Street following the 1988 encounter, and its increasingly fragile state led to the original cup being placed in permanent residence at the Museum of Rugby inside Twickenham Stadium.

Nowadays, a full-size replica cup is awarded to the winning team, and England are the team currently in possession after a scrappy 13-6 win at rain-lashed Murrayfield in this year’s Six Nations.

The Grudge

While the 38-38 draw at Twickenham in 2019 is probably the most entertaining Calcutta Cup match of all-time, given the nature of Scotland’s heroic comeback, the one fixture etched in most people’s memories above all others is the Five Nations 1990 Grand Slam decider at Murrayfield.

With just cause, an entire 238-page book, The Grudge, was written exclusively about the winner-takes-all match that had so many sub-plots and strands to it asides from the 80 minutes of gripping action on the pitch.

Staged at a time of nationalistic fervour, Edinburgh was abuzz with anticipation as Will Carling’s side took on what felt like an entire nation, not just the majority of the 60-odd thousand fans inside the ground.

An opportunistic try from Tony Stanger settled the match 13-7 in the home side’s favour and, as Hugh McIlvanney of The Observer so eloquently wrote, “it is hard to exaggerate the exquisite, unforgettable pleasure the Scots took from leaving the ancient enemy dazed among the rubble of their delusions.”

Plenty of fixture-based trophies have subsequently sprung up in the Six Nations in recent years. France and Italy play for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy, the winner of Scotland and Ireland is awarded the Centenary Quaich, and to popular acclaim, the Doddie Weir Cup has been played for by Scotland and Wales since 2018.

In November 2008, Twickenham hosted the inaugural Hillary Shield between England and New Zealand to commemorate Everest explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, a match which the All Blacks won 32-6 with captain McCaw lifting the trophy alongside Lady Hillary.

The Cook Cup, played between England and Australia, pre-dates the Hillary Shield by 11 years.

Made from crystal, the cup is contested in non-Rugby World Cup years and is named after Captain James Cook, an English explorer who connects the two countries' histories.

It might not be on the same level as cricket’s Ashes in terms of history and prestige, but try telling anyone in white or green and gold that it’s a prize not worth having.

All Blacks dominate Bledisloe Cup

Outside of Rugby World Cups, New Zealand and Australia’s most coveted silverware is, however, the Bledisloe Cup.

The All Blacks first played Australia in a rugby international in 1903, but it wasn’t until New Zealand governor-general Lord Bledisloe donated a trophy in 1931, with the maiden fixture taking place a year later, that the famous series was born.

Like England in the Calcutta Cup, New Zealand have historically been the dominant force in the now annual contest, retaining the trophy for a 17th time with a 36-0 win in Perth last year.

George Gregan was the last Wallaby captain to hoist the coveted trans-Tasman trophy aloft in 2002. They ceded it in 2003 and the All Blacks haven’t loosened their grip on it since.

The Bledisloe Cup’s credibility as a competition remains intact despite the one-sided pattern of events and is only secondary to the Webb Ellis Cup in terms of priorities by those involved.

Considerably smaller than the Bledisloe Cup but no less important to its participants is the Antim Cup, the prize at stake when Georgia take on Romania.

It is named after the 18th-century Georgian monk, Antim Iverianul, who lived and worked in Romania, and is intended to define the combined struggles and fates of the two unions.

Romania won six of the first eight Antim Cup encounters from its inception in 2000, but have only held it once since, in 2017.

Meanwhile, African neighbours Kenya and Uganda have been competing for the Elgon Cup since 1958.

After Kenya won the first encounter in Kampala, 21-11, the fixture had a 38-year hiatus before resuming again in 1997.

History was created in the first leg of last year’s home-and-away series as it was the first time a rugby international had been played in Kisumu City.

Kenya lost 16-13 on home soil but a 16-5 victory in the return match ensured they retained the trophy. Overall, the Simbas have a superior 22-10 win record.

One of the less well-known trophies in international rugby is the Pershing Cup.

It is named in honour of US Army General John Pershing, the organiser of the Inter-Allied Games in Paris in 1919, which featured the first-ever international between USA and Romania.

The Pershing Cup is awarded to the winner of all Romania-USA matches outside of Rugby World Cups, with the Eagles claiming two victories to Romania’s one in the three matches since the inaugural encounter in 2014.

Other trophies have since been consigned to history, such as the Churchill Cup and Victory Cup, but if one as prestigious as the Calcutta Cup can be kicked into touch, as it was on Princes Street one evening, nothing can be considered sacred!

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