Played annually, the format of the Championship is simple: each team plays every other team once, with home field advantage alternating from one year to the next. Two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss and unlike most other rugby union competitions the bonus point system is not used.
Victory in every game results in a 'Grand Slam' and back-to-back Grand Slams have been won on five occasions. Wales achieved the first one in 1908 and 1909, England have done it three times in 1913 and 1914, 1923 and 1924 and 1991 and 1992 while France did it in 1997 and 1998. England hold the record for the number of Grand Slams won with 12, followed by Wales with 11, France with nine, Scotland with three and Ireland with two.
Victory by any Home Nation over the other three Home Nations constitutes as a 'Triple Crown'. The Triple Crown has twice been won on four consecutive occasions, once by Wales between 1976 and 1979 and once by England between 1995 and 1998. England hold the record for the number of Triple Crowns won with 23, followed by Wales with 20 and Scotland and Ireland both with ten.
Although this achievement has long been a feature of the tournament, it was not until 2006 that a physical trophy, commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, was awarded. Meanwhile, the last-placed nation at the end of the tournament is said to have won a purely figurative Wooden Spoon.
Several individual competitions take place under the umbrella of the Six Nations tournament. The oldest is the Calcutta Cup, which has been running since 1879 and is contested annually between England and Scotland.
The Millennium Trophy has been awarded to the winner of the game between England and Ireland with the first presented in 1989, and in the same year, the Centenary Quaich was contested between Ireland and Scotland for the first time.
Since 2007, France and Italy have also contested for their own silverware - the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy. It was created to honour the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who helped unify Italy and was also a French military general.
Up to World War I
After 12 years of occasional friendly matches between the teams, the inaugural Home International Championship, comprising England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales was played in 1883. England won the first series, along with a Triple Crown, and up until 1893 when Wales won and 1894 when Ireland won only them and Scotland had been crowned champions.
Wales' triumphs in 1908 and 1909, although won during the Home Nations era, were the first Grand Slams as they defeated France in both seasons.
France officially joined in 1910, having played in four tournaments up to that point, with the Championship now referred to as the Five Nations. England won the first Championship of the new era while Wales followed up winning the first ever Grand Slam by winning the first Grand Slam of the Five Nations a year later. The competition was suspended during World War I before France were ejected from the tournament in 1931, which reverted back to being the Home Nations from 1932 through to 1939.
Proceedings were halted again during World War II and resumed in 1947 as the Five Nations with France welcomed backed into the fold.
France won their first shared title seven years later in 1954 and their first outright title in 1959 and by the 1970s the Five Nations had become the pre-eminent series in Northern hemisphere rugby union. Matches became all-ticket affairs, gaining huge popularity and a large television audience, however in 1972 the tournament was not finished after Scotland and Wales refused to travel to Dublin to play Ireland.
The season after was unique for a five-way tie, with every nation having won and lost two games. The 1970s marked the golden age for Welsh rugby as they won three Grand Slams and one Triple Crown during the decade, an achievement the modern team could yet surpass having won Grand Slams in 2005, 2008 and 2012.
There was no tangible reward for winning the Five Nations Championship until 1993 when a trophy was presented for the first time to the winners - who were France. Prior to 1994 teams that finished equal on points shared the Championship but from then on ties were broken by considering the points differences between the teams.
Wales were the second team to get their hands on Five Nations silverware followed by England, while Scotland's first success came in 1999.
Scotland were the last team to lift the Five Nations trophy as Italy joined the following year in 2000 and the tournament became known as the Six Nations. England won the first Six Nations competition in 2000 before repeating the trick in 2001, while Wales are the current holders having denied England the Grand Slam in 2013.
In 2005 Wales became the first team ever to win a Grand Slam by playing more games away than at home - a feat repeated by Ireland in 2009.
A year later France pipped Ireland on points' difference however the latter did receive the Triple Crown in trophy format for the first time ever. Italy collected the Wooden Spoon that year but achieved a historic feat by earning their maiden point away from home after drawing with Wales.
In 2007 with four teams having a mathematical chance of lifting the trophy France retained their crown on points' difference again. Italy made further history by winning their first away match against Scotland in Edinburgh and also by picking up two victories for the first time after beating Wales in Rome. Scotland replaced Italy in settling for the Wooden Spoon while Ireland won the Triple Crown for the second straight occasion and third time in four years.
Wales ended France's run in 2008, winning the Grand Slam for the first time since 2005 after a remarkable opening against England. Trailing by 13 points Wales came from behind to win 26-19, thanks mainly to Mike Phillips' 70th-minute try, and dispatched Scotland 30-15, Italy 47-8, France 29-12 and Ireland 16-12. Wales wing Shane Williams was named the RBS Player of the Championship after scoring six tries while England, World Cup finalists in 2007, were forced to settle for second.
Professional Era Continued
Ireland took a leaf out of Wales' book a year later ending a 61-year Grand Slam drought in a 2009 tournament in stark contrast to the 2008 one. Whereas the excitement in 2008 came at the start of the tournament it wasn't until the end when the 2009 Championship came alive. Wales hosted Ireland in Cardiff with a Triple Crown on the line as well as knowing a 13-point win would be enough to retain their title.
Drama ensued as with Ireland leading 17-15 at the death Welsh stand-off Stephen Jones missed a 50-metre penalty from halfway.
England finished second as a result in their first tournament under Martin Johnson while France and Wales contested the first ever game played on a Friday night.
The 2010 Six Nations belonged to France as they won the Grand Slam for the first time since 2004. Les Bleus were rarely troubled, opening up with an 18-9 win over Scotland before defeating Ireland 33-10, Wales 26-20 and Italy 46-20. France had already won the Championship going into their final game with England after Ireland lost their second game of the tournament to Scotland hours earlier. But despite being pushed by England, who scored the only try of the game, France came out on top 12-10 at the Stade de France to win the Grand Slam.
Ireland's 23-20 loss to Scotland in the final game of the campaign not only denied Ireland the Triple Crown but saw Italy receive the dreaded Wooden Spoon for the third year running.
England ended a run of eight years without a title as they wrapped up the 2011 RBS 6 Nations title. Winger Chris Ashton was the spearhead, racking up six tries including four at home to Italy in a thumping 59-13 success. The Azzurri did however make history with a first championship win over France, stunning Les Bleus 22-21 in Rome.
A controversial Mike Phillips try handed Wales a narrow 19-13 win over Ireland, but the Irish took their frustration out on England, denying them a Grand Slam with a convincing 24-8 win on the final weekend. And despite securing that historic victory over the French, Italy again had to settle for the Wooden Spoon after a 21-8 defeat in Scotland in their final match.
Wales completed a third Grand Slam in the space of eight years to capture the 2012 RBS 6 Nations crown. Kicking things off with a hard-fought win in Dublin, Wales took a major step towards the title with a narrow win over England at Twickenham thanks to Scott Williams' late try, before wrapping things up with a 16-9 win over France in Cardiff. Dan Lydiate won the Player of the Tournament award while Alex Cuthbert also made a major breakthrough but it was Ireland wing Tommy Bowe who topped the try-scoring charts with five.
Owen Farrell also impressed in marshalling England to second place while Italy overcame Scotland in the final gameweek to ensure a fifth-placed finish.
Much like two years before England were denied a Grand Slam on the final weekend of the 2013 6 Nations - but this time they surrendered the Championship as well. After collecting four straight wins Stuart Lancaster's side faced Wales, who were still in the hunt for the Championship despite home defeat to Ireland in their opener.
And the Welsh were rampant at the Millennium Stadium, as Alex Cuthbert ran in two tries in a title-clinching 30-3 win. It was also a good tournament for previous Wooden Spoon winners, as Scotland and Italy finished third and fourth respectively. Their success came at the expense of France, who only managed to beat the Scots on their way to finishing sixth.