The Six Nations Championship is one of the oldest tournaments in rugby, having been played in one form or another for more than 138 years.

What was initially a men’s international tournament featuring England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, has grown to include France and Italy, while there has been a women’s edition since 1996.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ensured the men’s and women’s tournaments were still being played in October and November. But despite the short turnaround, there is much to look forward to in 2021.

Will England be able to defend the titles they won in 2020? Or can the chasing pack — led by France in both editions — reel in the reigning champions?

What is the Six Nations?

The Six Nations Championship is an international rugby tournament involving England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. It was first contested between 16 December, 1882 and 3 March, 1883 by England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales under the guise of the Home Nations Championship. France competed in the tournament between 1910-31 and since 1947, while the tournament became the Six Nations in 2000, when Italy joined the fray.

A Women’s Home Nations Championship was first held in 1996. Three years later France made it a Five Nations, while Spain were admitted in 2000. Italy replaced Spain in the Women’s Six Nations in 2007.

Who has won the Six Nations the most times?

Since the Five Nations Championship became the Six Nations in 2000, England have won seven men’s titles — or a third of the tournaments played. France and Wales have won five, while Ireland have won four. Wales have won more men’s Grand Slams (four) than any other nation in that period. England are the most successful team in the overall history of the Championship having enjoyed 29 outright successes and shared the title on a further 10 occasions since that first match in 1882. England have won 13 Grand Slams since the tournament’s inception, one more than Wales.

England won the first Women’s Home Nations Championship in 1996, and have gone on to claim the title a record 16 times in total. On all-but one of those occasions the Red Roses have completed a Grand Slam. France have won the Championship six times (five Grand Slams), while Ireland (twice) are the only other nation to have lifted the women’s Championship since it became the Six Nations in 2002.

Who won last year’s tournament?

England won the Six Nations Championship 2020. Although Eddie Jones’ side lost against France in Paris on the opening weekend, they recovered to win their next four matches. Les Bleus, meanwhile, were beaten by Scotland in the final match before the tournament was postponed due to the pandemic. England and France ended the Six Nations 2020 level on 18 points, with four wins and one defeat, but the former claimed the Championship due to their superior points difference.

Last year’s Women’s Six Nations was also won by England. The Red Roses were the only team able to play all five of their scheduled matches due to the pandemic, and Simon Middleton’s side won each of them. England secured a second successive Grand Slam with a 54-26 defeat of Italy in Parma on 1 November. They will hope to maintain that form this year, with Rugby World Cup 2021 coming into view.

Are fans going to be allowed into stadiums during the 2021 Championship?

An announcement on allowing fans to attend matches has not yet been made, but will depend on the latest government guidance in each of the competing nations.

Where can I watch it?

Television coverage of the men’s tournament in the UK is split between the BBC and ITV, while Wales’ matches are also shown on S4C. Fans in Ireland can also access the action on Virgin Media, while in France the Championship is shown on France 2, and via DMAX in Italy. International rights for the Six Nations are held by a number of broadcasters, including BeIn Sports, DAZN, ESPN, NBC Sports and SuperSport.

When does the Six Nations start?

The opening matches of the men’s Six Nations 2021 are scheduled to be played on 6 February, 2021, when Italy host France in Rome and Scotland face England at Twickenham. Wales are scheduled to play Ireland at the Principality Stadium 24 hours later.

What are the fixtures?

Week One (6-7 February)

Italy v France
England v Scotland
Wales v Ireland

Week Two (13-14 February)

England v Italy
Scotland v Wales
Ireland v France

Week Three (27-28 February)

Italy v Ireland
Wales v England 
France v Scotland

Week Four (13-14 March)

Italy v Wales
England v France
Scotland v Ireland

Week Five (20 March)

Scotland v Italy
Ireland v England
France v Wales

The Women’s Six Nations 2021 fixtures have not yet been announced, although they are traditionally played on the same weekend as the corresponding men’s match.

Where are matches played?

The men’s Six Nations 2021 matches are scheduled to be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Twickenham in south-west London, Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Murrayfield in Edinburgh and Stade de France in Paris.

How do points work?

Teams are awarded four points for a win, two for a draw and nothing for a defeat. In addition, teams are able to earn bonus points. Any team that scores four tries or more in a match is awarded an extra point, while a team that loses by seven points or less also earns a bonus point. If a team scores four tries or more while losing by less than seven points, they are awarded both bonus points. 

If a team wins all five of their matches, meanwhile, they are automatically awarded three ‘Grand Slam’ bonus points to ensure that team wins the Championship.

READ MORE: Match officials announced for men’s Six Nations 2021 >>