Six Nations' history with a global pandemic
FEATURE: This year it’s the coronavirus that has prevented the completion of the International Championship that this year is called the Six Nations. In fact, the very first one was not completed, not that there was a pandemic that year.
Corona was not the only virus to trouble the Championship – the 3/4/5/6 Nations Championship. Silliness was also an effective virus, war even more effective.
In 1871, the first rugby international was played – Scotland vs England in Edinburgh. In 1883 the first International Championship was played – a four-nations competition.
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The four nations were England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. England won but the competition was incomplete because Ireland did not play Wales. Ireland did not play Wales because they could not able to raise a team to go over to Cardiff to play Wales. Perhaps it was the journey across the Irish Sea that was the problem. After all, they had had a terrible February crossing when they went to play England in Manchester. They were so seasick that they ended playing with only 14 men as Barney Hughes was still too sick to play.
Ireland did go across in 1884 and played the match, only by inspanning Ireland’s secretary HC Cook and two Newport players whom they borrowed.
In 1885 two matches were not completed and one was replayed after being abandoned. The weather caused the abandonment of the Scotland-Ireland match but at Scotland’s insistence, it was played a fortnight later. But the Irish-Welsh match again did not take place, nor did the match between Scotland and England, for the Scots refused to play the Sassenach because of a dispute about a try scored by England the year before. It was a dispute that led to the formation of the International Rugby Board (IRB).
In 1888 and 1889, the International Championship was completed but this time it was the Three Nations as England’s refused to join the newly formed IRB and did not play the other three. But 1890 seemed to herald a new start, but, alas, it did not last long. This time the Scots and the Irish accused Wales of professionalism for giving Monkey Gould a house when he retired, and so did not play Wales in 1897, and Scotland kept up the boycott in 1898.
Peace off the field enabled the International Championship be fully functional, in fact becoming the Five Nations in 1910 with the inclusion of France. This happy state of affairs lasted till 1914 when World War I broke out and Scotland were unable to play France.
Peace came to Europe in 1919 and in 1920 hostilities were resumed on the Five Nations rugby fields. In 1932, it shrunk again to Four Nations as France were excluded with accusations of professionalism off the field and brutality on it.
There was a break from 1940 to 1946 because of World War II. In 1947 the Five Nations burst out again. On it sailed, year after fascinating year, growing to become the Six Nations when, in 2000, Italy joined in – and then there were six.
From 1947 20 2019 has been the longest uninterrupted run the International Championship has had till Covid 19 slunk out of China and infested the world. In Europe, it struck Italy hard and it was there that matches were first postponed and then all matches were postponed just before the final round on 14 March 2020.