The Six Nations is the premier international rugby competition played between the big six teams in Europe. The competition began as the Home Nations Championship in 1883, with Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland being the four teams involved.
The tournament expanded in 1910 when France joined and it stayed as the Five Nations Championship for 90 years. To start the 21st century, the competition expanded again with Italy being included. This is when it began being called the Six Nations Championship.
The competition is played every year in February and March. Each team will play against everyone in a round robin tournament, meaning there are five game weeks. As there is an odd number of games, teams will alternate every year on whether they have two or three home games.
For even years, France, Ireland and Wales get three home games, with England, Italy and Scotland getting three home games in odd years. This is in place to make the competition fairer. Every year, teams are aiming to win the Championship trophy.
The competition runs as a league format, using a similar points system to other major competitions. The team who finishes with the most points will be crowned Six Nations Champions at the end of the tournament. Teams can get points by winning or drawing a game, or by getting one of the two bonus points available every game.
Each team is aiming to win the Grand Slam. If a team wins all five of their games in the competition then they win the Grand Slam. A grand slam has been pretty common the last couple of years.
At the moment in the Six Nations there are two teams who are above and beyond the rest. France and Ireland are currently the best two rugby teams in the world and they have won the last two Six Nations trophies.
France won the Grand Slam in 2022, the teams first Six Nations trophy since 2010. But in 2023, the battle between Ireland and France went the other way. Ireland were able to defeat France in Round 2 which was a massive result against a very strong French side.
Having beaten England in the final game of the tournament, Ireland won the Grand Slam and are the competitions reigning champion. With the Six Nations being one of the most historic tournaments in the world, the crowds for Six Nations game are massive and it is a brilliant tournament to watch.
At the moment, players like Josh van der Flier, Antoine Dupont, Finn Russell and Ange Capuozzo have all shown their world class ability in the Six Nations. It is a brilliant competition which produces incredibly competitive matches in front of roaring crowds.
The biggest rugby competition in Europe, you have to follow the Six Nations. It is brilliant to watch and has so many incredible moments.
European Champions Cup
In terms of European club competitions, there is nothing bigger than the European Champions Cup. The competition was originally created as the Heineken Cup and the first season it was played was 1995-96, not long after rugby became professional for the first time.
The Champions Cup currently has 24 teams in the competition which has been the same format since it was the Heineken Cup. The top eight teams in the Premiership and the Top 14 automatically qualify for the next Champions Cup. The system is a little bit more complicated for the URC but it still means the best teams enter.
Essentially, the Champions Cup is European rugby’s version of the Champions League. It sees the very best domestic sides going against each other week in and week out. At the moment, the current format is that those 24 teams are split into two pools of 12.
In those pools, teams will play home and away against two teams, so playing four group games in total. The top eight teams from each pool will progress through to the Round of 16. From that point onwards it is a knockout competition, with the higher ranked team getting home advantage in the Round of 16 and the Quarter-finals.
Once you get to the semi-finals, the games are played at a neutral location. This will usually be decided before the competition starts. The final is also played at a neutral locations which is decided before the tournament starts. The 2022/23 European Champions Cup Final will be played at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
All of the knockout games are single-legged ties, with the competition experimenting with two-legged ties in the past. The competitions most successful club is Toulouse. The French club won the very first Heineken Cup and have won four more trophies since, most recently winning it all in 2021 when they defeated La Rochelle.
But La Rochelle were able to overcome that defeat the next season. In the 2022 Champions Cup final, La Rochelle were able to out muscle the Leinster side which had looked unstoppable the entire season. La Rochelle held on for a close 24-21 victory at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
This is the first time that La Rochelle have won the competition, becoming the fourth French team to win the trophy. They look in a good place to win the competition again.
The things that makes the tournament so special is that it is the only time you will see the best domestic sides in Europe against each other. If you just look at the final last year you can see how much talent there is in the Champions Cup.
In the final last year, international superstars like Johnny Sexton, Will Skelton, Uini Atonio and Josh van der Flier battled it out for the trophy. What makes the competition even more exciting at the moment is it now also features the South African teams that have joined the URC.
It means that almost every game in the competition features international talent. Guys like Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Steven Kitshoff will not feature in the Champions Cup and it could mean South Africa becomes the dominant force in Europe, as strange as that is to say.
While some people have been critical of the inclusion of South African teams in a European competition, the South African teams bring even more quality to this competition. The Champions Cup is a brilliant competition to watch and one that you have to follow if you’re a rugby fan.
European Challenge Cup
The Challenge Cup is the second tier of competition for clubs in Europe. It is very similar to the Europa League in football. The competition was created the same year that the Champions Cup was and it runs in a very similar format to that of the Champions Cup.
The history of the tournament shows one of the selling points of the competition which is that there have been a lot more teams who have won the Challenge Cup. Clermont and Harlequins are the two most successful teams in the competition, having both won the tournament three times.
There are 18 teams who currently qualify for the tournament every season. 17 of those teams automatically qualify based on their position in the English Premiership, Top 14 and URC.
One of the main differences between the two competitions is that the Challenge Cup invites a team to join every year. For the 2022-23 season this Is the Cheetahs, a South African team who do not currently play in the URC.
Those 18 teams are then split into two pools, with the format having to change this season after Worcester Warriors and Wasps entered administration before the competition started. This meant that there was one pool of 10 teams and one pool of eight teams.
The way the group stage is supposed to work is that is has the same system as the Champions Cup. Each team will play two teams in the group stage in a home and away series, playing a total of four games. The top six teams in each pool then progress to the Round of 16.
This is where the Challenge Cup and the Champions Cup link. The teams who finish 9th and 10th in each pool of the Champions Cup drop down to the Challenge Cup for the Round of 16, which is where the final 4 teams come from.
From the Round of 16 it becomes a single legged knockout competition. The team who is the higher ranked from the pool stage will get home advantage for each tie. Unlike the Champions Cup, the semi-final will be played at the higher ranked teams home.
While it is the second tier of European club rugby, there is still a huge amount of quality in the competition. If you look at this season, international superstars like Josh Adams, Cheslin Kolbe, Charles Ollivon, Sione Tuipolotu and Dan Biggar are all involved in this years tournament.
It is still a brilliant tournament to watch and follow because there is still some incredible quality. An exciting and thrilling tournament to watch, with the stakes incredibly high the further into the tournament you go.
United Rugby Championship
The URC is the annual rugby competition which involves the professional teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales. The league initially began as the Welsh-Scottish League, also known as the Celtic League.
The name of the competition has changed a few times, becoming the Pro 12 before being the Pro 14. It rebranded to become the United Rugby Championship in 2021 with the new inclusion of four teams from South Africa. These teams had previously been playing in Super Rugby.
The competition is a league format which runs from September to May. In total there are 18 game weeks. The competition also has four regional pools. These are the Irish Shield pool, the Welsh Shield pool, the South African Shield Pool and the Scottish/Italian Pool which each consist of four teams.
These four teams will play each other twice, one at home and one away. They will play the remaining twelves games against the remaining twelve teams, with six home games and six away games which are drawn at the start of the season.
The points system works the same as the majority of league competitions in rugby, with four points available for a win, two for a draw and none for a loss. You can also get a bonus point If you score four tries in a single game or you lose by seven points or fewer.
At the end of the season, the top eight teams go into a knockout competition, with the higher ranked team having home advantage for each tie of the knockout round. Home field advantage makes a massive difference in this competition as teams do not really want to be travelling down to South Africa for knockout games.
The URC has an incredible amount of talent with guys like Johnny Sexton, Eben Etzebeth and Leigh Halfpenny all playing in the competition. The URC tends to provide a lot of incredibly close games with very high quality of rugby. Definitely an excellent competition to follow, particularly with how new the format is.
The Top 14 really does not get enough attention outside of France, but it is one of the most physically demanding leagues in the world. The name Top 14 is because it is the top tier of French rugby, featuring the 14 best professional French rugby teams. It is also one of the most historic rugby competitions.
The roots of the Top 14 go all the way back to 1892. In the first season of the competition, Racing Club de France defeated Stade Francais 4-3 in the final in front of 2000 spectators. Since then there have been a lot of changes to the league.
The format is very simple. It is a round robin competition, with every teams playing against every other team both home and away. This means that teams have to play 26 games every season which means that French teams need a lot more depth than other teams in European leagues like the URC and the Premiership.
The top 6 teams at the end of the season qualify for the Top 14 finals. The teams in 3rd,4th,5th and 6th play against each other to determine who gets through to the Semi-finals where they are joined by the teams who finished in 1st and 2nd. The two teams that win the semi-final then go to the Top 14 final.
This is played at a neutral venue and determines the overall winner of the competition. The most recent Top 14 winners were Montpellier, having beaten Castres in the 2022 Top 14 final. This was the first time that Montpellier had won the championship in the teams history.
As the Top 14 is made up of just French teams you might think that there is only French talent on show. Guys like Antoine Dupont, Damian Penaud and Gael Fickou are some of the international French talent in the league.
But the Top 14 is one of the richest rugby competitions in the world. The teams in the division are able to bring in international superstars. In the past the league has attracted international legends like Dan Carter, Johnny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau.
Even at the moment the league is attracting stars, with guys like Semi Radradra, Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Siya Kolisi soon to be playing in the top flight of French rugby.
If you want physical rugby with some incredible crowds, the Top 14 is the competition that you want to follow.
The Gallagher Premiership is the league competition featuring the best English teams who play professional rugby. The competition has been around in various names since 1987, slowly evolving into the current system.
The eleven teams in the league play each team home and away in a round robin format. At the end of the season the four teams with the most points go into the playoffs. The top two teams play at home against the teams in 3rd and 4th. The winners of the two semi-finals will then advance to the Premiership Final which is played at Twickenham.
There has been a dominant team in the Premiership, Leicester Tigers being by far the most successful team in the history of the competition. They have won eleven Premiership titles, winning the most recent trophy thanks to a last minute winner from Freddie Burns in the 2022 final.
The Premiership is a brilliant competition to watch for a few different reasons. The history of rugby in England means there are some loyal fan bases who come out in their thousands for games. The league features some incredibly exciting attacking teams like Northampton Saints and Harlequins.
Superstars like Hande Pollard, Julian Montoya and Jasper Wiese all currently play in the Premiership, with stars like Finn Russell, Ethan Roots and Thomas du Toit all joining the league after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
While the Premiership may not have the superstars that the Top 14 has, it is still a brilliant league to watch and one that is also quite easy to follow.