Throughout its various iterations, from the original Home Nations format to its expansion to the modern-day Six Nations, and its 134-year history, no team has ever won the championship three times in a row.
Over the next few weeks, for the first time since 2002, England have the chance to complete a hat-trick of titles. Under head coach Eddie Jones they have lost just once on their way to consecutive championships.
But even the best teams in Six Nations history, such as Clive Woodward’s World Cup-winning England in the early noughties, failed to complete a trilogy. Here’s what befell previous teams who fell short of three successive titles in the Six Nations era.
2002: France halt England in Paris
England were back-to-back reigning Six Nations champions. After disappointment at a home World Cup, they had recovered and were closing in on World Rugby’s No1 ranking. Many tipped them to win the forthcoming World Cup next year. Sound familiar?
The current status under Jones shares many similarities with the last time they found themselves going for a third straight Six Nations win, under Clive Woodward in 2002.
Although they finished with the same points tally as in the previous two years, they fell agonisingly short of a third title, losing by just five points to eventual Grand Slam-winners France in their only defeat of the campaign.
A missed conversion and a failed drop-kick attempt from Jonny Wilkinson cost England. Luckily he had found his range and more than made up for it in the World Cup final 18 months later.
2008: French fail in Wales
In 2006 and 2007 France won consecutive Six Nations and were ranked second in the world — their highest position since rankings began. But they failed to live up to the billing when attempting a third title.
After losing at home to England, they still had a chance to win the title in Cardiff on the final day but were swept aside as Wales romped to a Grand Slam with a 29-12 victory.
This was a France side in transition following the previous years’ focus on preparing for their home World Cup in the autumn of 2007. Under new coach Marc Lievremont, many of France’s most experienced charges were dropped to make way for a young squad that failed to sustain the results achieved before them. Lievremont would, however, guide them to the Grand Slam two years later.
2014: Wales wilt as Ireland triumph
Like France six years earlier, Wales’s winning run came to a juddering end in 2014 after a Grand Slam in 2012 and title defence in 2013. An unconvincing opening-day 23-15 defeat of Italy at home, in which the Azzurri were in contention until the closing stages, was not the performance of an immovable Six Nations hegemon. A 26-3 hammering in Ireland a week later was even less impressive, and an 11-point loss at Twickenham in the penultimate weekend of the championship saw Wales’s grip on the tournament come loose.
Blame was laid at the door of head coach Warren Gatland and the exertions of a host of senior pros on a British and Irish Lions tour the preceding summer that had been dominated by Welshman. Under Gatland’s lead, Jamie Roberts, Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton, Adam Jones and Leigh Halfpenny all played starring roles in the Lions’ series victory in Australia.
2016: England end Irish run
Ireland were forecast to become the first side to win the Six Nations three times in a row. But that was before anyone had any idea of just how quickly Eddie Jones would turn around England’s fortunes following the disaster in the 2015 World Cup.
This was Ireland’s second campaign without Brian O’Driscoll and first without retired captain Paul O’Connell. Ahead of the tournament Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson, Luke Fitzgerland and Tommy Bowe were all ruled out with injuries, while when facing a must-win game at Twickenham in order to have any hope of winning a third title, Sean O’Brien, Dave Kearney and Mike McCarthy were all ruled out.
England comfortably won 21-10 after Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was forced to name three debutants in his side.