One of Rugby Union’s most eagerly-anticipated contests, the Six Nations, is set to begin this weekend, with Eddie Jones’ in-form England looking to defend their 2016 Grand Slam.
2017 will see the 18th edition of the Six Nations in its current guise, and has provided plenty of drama and memorable moments since Italy joined the gang in 2000.
While England dominated last year’s Six Nations, the likes of Wales, Ireland and France have all enjoyed spells as the Championship’s number one team.
But which of these half dozen hopefuls will be number one in this Stat Battle?
*Stats are correct as of 3 February 2017
ROUND 1: CHAMPIONSHIPS
Every year, six countries battle for one hallowed trophy. Five weekends of action concludes with the presentation of the Six Nations trophy to the team with the most points. But who has lifted the most trophies since 2000?
Scotland and Italy are both winless in this category but a mere two titles separate the other four nations.
Ireland’s victory in their dramatic duel with England in 2015 saw them lift their 3rd title, while Wales have 4 championships to their name (their most recent in 2013).
However, both England and France stand together at the top of the pile with 5 titles each. England won the first ever Six Nations in 2000 but the French were the first to reach an unprecedented 5 Championship titles back in 2010. Eddie Jones’ England secured their 5th crown last year and their incredible winning streak suggests a record 6th Championship is a major possibility in 2017.
RESULTS: =1st: England – 5 =1st: France – 5 3rd: Wales – 4 4th: Ireland – 3 =5th: Scotland – 0 =5th: Italy – 0
WINNER(S): England & France
ROUND 2: GRAND SLAMS
The ultimate ambition for any side entering the Six Nations, rather than merely racking up the most points, is by winning the Championship via a Grand Slam.
A Grand Slam can only be achieved by winning every single match, and is therefore the absolute definition of domination.
Nine of the 17 Six Nations series have witnessed a Grand Slam, showing how tough it is to achieve a 100% record in such a competitive championship.
Four of the half dozen have achieved a Grand Slam victory since 2000. Ireland secured their one and only Grand Slam to date in 2009, whilst England have achieved the feat twice: during their World Cup-winning year in 2003 and more recently in last year’s championship.
But the joint-record holders of Grand Slams since the turn of the millennium are France and Wales. The French became the first team in Six Nations history to earn a Grand Slam in 2002, before achieving the illustrious award in 2004 and 2010. Wales won their first Slam in 2005 and added two more to their name in 2008 and 2012. In fact, 2013 saw Wales’ only Six Nations title without a 100% winning record.
RESULTS: =1st: France – 3 =1st: Wales – 3 3rd: England – 2 4th: Ireland – 1 =5th: Scotland – 0 =5th: Italy – 0
WINNER(S): France & Wales
ROUND 3: TRIES
With the 2017 Six Nations set to introduce a World Cup-style bonus point system, scoring tries will be key to any hopes of lifting the trophy this season.
Four tries or more will earn an additional bonus point, as well a losing margin of no more than seven points, but who has scored the most tries since 2000?
With a significant margin of 34 tries over their nearest rivals, England have been the most productive nation in this area, with 245 five-pointers to their name. Ireland (211) and France (200) are the only other countries to reach the 200 mark with Wales slightly further back on 183.
Scotland and Italy are much further adrift of the top four but, despite finishing 6th place more often than not, the Italians (105) have scored three more tries since joining the Championship than the Scots (102).
RESULTS: 1st: England – 245 2nd: Ireland – 211 3rd: France – 200 4th: Wales – 183 5th: Italy – 105 6th: Scotland – 102
ROUND 4: CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
The points system will undergo a significant overhaul in 2017, but who has racked up the most points under the old system since Italy’s inclusion 17 years ago?
Since 2000, it is England who have earned the most points, despite achieving less Grand Slams than two of their competitors. England have amassed an impressive 121 points (an average of 7.1 points per year, or 3 wins and a draw).
Ireland pip France to 2nd in this category with 113 points against Les Bleus’ 110. Wales (97) are one victory away from reaching a century of Six Nations points, whilst Scotland (44) and Italy (25) lag far behind the top four.
RESULTS: 1st: England – 121 2nd: Ireland – 113 3rd: France – 110 4th: Wales – 97 5th: Scotland – 44 6th: Italy – 25
ROUND 5: POINTS SCORED
In terms of points scored, England are the runaway leaders with 2350 points to their name.
Once again, Ireland and France run each other extremely close, with Frances’ 2084 points defeating Ireland’s total by a mere four points.
Wales are 4th with 1984 points, a whopping 606 ahead of 5th-placed Scotland, who themselves are a further 139 ahead of Italy.
RESULTS: 1st: England – 2350 2nd: France – 2084 3rd: Ireland – 2080 4th: Wales – 1984 5th: Scotland – 1378 6th: Italy – 1239
ROUND 6: POINTS CONCEDED
As well as boasting the best offensive record, England can also take pride in having the most flattering defensive record, conceding 1327 points (an average of 15.6 points per match) during their 85 matches in the Six Nations.
France and Ireland are neck-and-neck once again. While their offensive record could only be separated by four points, remarkably, their defensive record is even closer. It is France who win the battle for 2nd again, conceding only two points less than Ireland across the span of 85 matches.
Wales are again a comfortable 4th with 1811, with Scotland on 2115. Italy’s defensive record however makes for very unpleasant reading, conceding 677 points more than the 5th-placed Scots; the Azzurri’s 2792 points against means they let slip an average of nearly 33 points per match, a ratio which they will desperately seek to improve.
RESULTS: 1st: England – 1327 2nd: France – 1534 3rd: Ireland – 1536 4th: Wales – 1811 5th: Scotland – 2115 6th: Italy – 2792
ROUND 7: WINS
Despite earning fewer Grand Slams than both Wales and France, England’s consistency across 17 years of the Six Nations ensures that they are the holders of more victories than anyone else since 2000.
Out of 85 matches since the start of the millennium, England have won 60 Six Nations matches, 5 more than Ireland and 6 more than three-time Grand Slam winners France.
While triple Slam winners France and Wales have endured the occasional torrid year in the bottom two and even a wooden spoon each, England’s record of never finishing outside of the top four perhaps explains why they have overhauled both in this category.
Wales themselves have won 47 Six Nations matches, Scotland in 5th have 21 and the tournament’s newest member Italy have 12 to their name.
RESULTS: 1st: England – 60 2nd: Ireland – 55 3rd: France – 54 4th: Wales – 47 5th: Scotland – 21 6th: Italy – 12
ROUND 8: TRIPLE CROWNS
The Triple Crown has been contested by the four Home Nations since all the way back in the late 1880s, and is a tradition that has carried on despite the inclusions of both France and Italy into the series.
Since the Six Nations began as we know it in 2000, the Triple Crown has been won on 11 occasions, leaving only six championships without a Triple Crown triumph.
England – the first ever Triple Crown winners in a Six Nations back in 2002 – and Ireland are the joint-most successful in this area since the arrival of Italy, claiming four Triple Crown awards each.
Ireland claimed their quartet within a span of just six championships between 2004 and 2009, whilst England were the most recent winners in 2016, on their way to their second Grand Slam.
Wales are the only other winners of a Triple Crown, earning the accolade on three occasions (2005, 2008 and 2012). Scotland are yet to earn a Triple Crown in the Six Nations era; their last clean sweep over their fellow Home Nations came during the 1990 Five Nations.
RESULTS: =1st: England – 4 =1st: Ireland – 4 3rd: Wales – 3 4th: Scotland – 0
WINNER(S): England & Ireland
ROUND 9: GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI TROHY
With the Triple Crown out of the reach of the Six Nations two newest members, France and Italy have competed for their own trophy since 2007. It was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi to commemorate 200 years since the birth of the leader of Italian unification.
Their 2016 clash marked the 10th battle for the Giuseppe Garibaldi, which saw France pip Italy by 23 points to 21 in Paris.
It is a trophy which the French have almost made entirely their own, winning the award 8 times in 10 years. Les Bleus also won the inaugural Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy in 2007, claiming a comprehensive 39-3 success in Rome.
Italy’s 2 victories in this category both came in home fixtures. They pipped France by a single point in 2011 before triumphing 23-18 at the Stadio Olimpico two years later.
RESULTS: 1st: France – 8 2nd: Italy – 2
ROUND 10: CALCUTTA CUP
Much like football, rugby union contains a lengthy and passionate rivalry between England and Scotland. Since 1879, the two arch-rivals have competed annually for the Calcutta Cup, a tradition that has carried on into the Six Nations era.
Scotland denied England a Grand Slam in 2000 in what was the first ever Calcutta Cup of the Six Nations with 19-13 victory at Murrayfield.
But since then it is a trophy which England have largely dominated, lifting 13 Calcutta Cups since the turn of the millennium while Scotland have only beaten their rivals 3 times in that period.
As well as that memorable clash in 2000, the 2006 and 2008 championships saw Scotland’s only other Six Nations victories over England, while the 2010 series saw a rare draw between the two, a 15-15 tie at Murrayfield.
RESULTS: 1st: England – 13 2nd: Scotland – 3
ROUND 11: MILLENNIUM TROPHY
Considering the quality they both possess, their rich Six Nations history and the legends that have played for both countries, Ireland v England is always a fixture to look forward to.
With BBC Sport’s Rugby Union experts unanimously tipping Ireland and England to finish in the top two, their meeting at the Aviva Stadium on the final weekend of action could prove decisive in terms of where the Six Nations trophy will be heading their year.
This was always going to be a close category, and so it has proved, with their Six Nations head-to-head reading 9–8 in Ireland’s favour. With home advantage in 2017, it will be hard to bet against the Irish extending their lead in this particular duel.
RESULTS: 1st: Ireland – 9 2nd: England – 8
ROUND 12: CENTENARY QUIACH
The Centenary Quiach has been contested every year by Ireland and Scotland since 1989, and represents the 2017 Six Nations curtain-raiser at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Although their overall head-to-head is extremely close (14-13 in Ireland’s favour), Ireland are the comprehensive victors of this category since Five became Six in 2000.
The Irish have defeated the Scots in 14 of the 17 Six Nations series, with Scotland’s most recent triumph coming in 2013, when they ran out 12-8 winners at Murrayfield.
RESULTS: 1st: Ireland – 14 2nd: Scotland – 3
ROUND 13: WOODEN SPOON
For every winner, there has to be a loser. In the Six Nations Championship, the team who brings up the rear is awarded (albeit not physically) the infamous ‘wooden spoon’.
Four of the six nations have endured the bitter taste of last place since 2000, with England and Ireland so far the only teams yet to finish bottom of the pile.
Wales (2003) and France (2013) have both incredibly finished in 6th place on one occasion, whilst Scotland have claimed the unwanted award 4 times.
However the runaway holders of the most wooden spoon awards is the Championship’s newest member, Italy. The Azzurri have ‘won’ the infamous award 11 times in 17 editions of the Six Nations, and with nearest rivals Scotland improving significantly, Italy will surely be favourites to finish 6th in this year’s Championship.
RESULTS: =1st: England – 0 =1st: Ireland – 0 =3rd: France – 1 =3rd: Wales – 1 5th: Scotland – 4 6th: Italy – 11
WINNER(S): England & Ireland
FINAL RESULTS: 1st: England – 9 2nd: Ireland – 4 3rd: France – 3 4th: Wales – 1 =5th: Scotland – 0 =5th: Italy – 0
As much as they dominated last year’s Six Nations, England dominate plenty of the record books since the Championship inherited its current guise in 2000.
With the most wins, points and championships, England have arguably been the class of the Six Nations so far and, particularly after their sensational Grand Slam triumph under Eddie Jones in 2016, it will be difficult to prevent the men in white from extending their lead in all these categories.
In fact, should they go on to defend their Grand Slam, England will join France and Wales on 3 Grand Slams and reach the top of yet another category.
But one thing’s for sure and that is that another Grand Slam will not come easily. With many experts tipping Ireland to take the Championship trophy back after relinquishing it to England last year – as well as the likes of Wales, France and an ever-improving Scotland lurking in the background – Eddie Jones’ in-form side will find it tough to hold on to their crown.
Who will win the 2017 Six Nations Championship?