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Monday, 18 January, 1999, 13:22 GMT
A beginner's Five Nations
The championship presently includes England, Scotland, Wales Ireland and France
The Five Nations championship is the high-point of the rugby season where England, France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales battle it out for the elusive Grand Slam.

During the annual championship, each nation plays the others once, with home advantage alternating every year.

A win gives a team two points, a draw one and a defeat none. The team with the most points at the end of the tournament is declared champion.

France are the current champions
Until the rules were changed in 1993 ties were common, but now the points scored by a team are used to break any ties (i.e. the team who scored the most points against other sides is declared the winner.)

If a team beats everyone else in the championship it is awarded the honour of winning the 'Grand Slam'. At the other end of the table, the team who fails to win a match or, in the result of a tie, scores the least points is said to have 'won' the "Wooden Spoon".

The Triple Crown

For England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, there is the additional goal of winning the 'Triple Crown', one side having to beat all the others to achieve this.

Wales currently lead the Five Nations standings with 33 outright or shared championships. Their record is bolstered by a near-total dominance of the tournament that lasted from the mid 1960s to the end of the 1970s. The Welsh team wear a red jersey with three white plumes.

England are presently ranked second in the table with 29 wins but have won four out of the last seven tournaments. The English also hold the record for the most Grand Slams with 11. England's famous white jersey is adorned with a single red rose.

The Calcutta Cup

The annual fixture between Scotland and England is known as the "Calcutta Cup". The winner takes home the coveted trophy made from the silver Rupee coins left over when the Calcutta Rugby Club folded in India. Scotland, who have won the tournament 21 times, wear a navy jersey with a white thistle.

The Calcutta Cup is a legacy of old
France are the current Five Nations champions, they first took part in the tournament in 1910. In 1931 they were expelled in because of the poor state of the French game. They rejoined in 1947 and won the last tournament in Grand Slam style.

The French jersey is traditionally blue and is famous for its golden cockerel on a red badge. Despite joining the tournament late, they have still won 18 championships.

Ireland were the winners of the 1997 Wooden Spoon, losing to Scotland 38-10, England 46-6, France 32-15 but beating Wales 26-25. The Irish team represents both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. They wear green jerseys with a badge of three shamrocks.

When five becomes six

Italian rugby, which once sat alongside French cricket and Irish baseball, in terms of international prestige, has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis within the last decade.

The Italians will join in the year 2000
During the 1987 Rugby World Cup, the gulf in class between the Italians and the top teams in the world was perhaps most evident in their 70-6 defeat against the mighty All Blacks. But since then Italy have turned things around, beating the present Five Nations champions, France, as well as Ireland and Scotland within the last few seasons.

As a result of their metamorphosis the Italians have been granted entry into an expanded 'Six Nations' championship in 2000.

That decision may well lead to a two division tournament in the future and possibly the eventual inclusion of nations such as Romania, Canada and the United States.

For the president of the Italian Rugby Federation, Giancarlo Dondi, the development is a massive boost to rugby in the country.

"It is a dream that a few years ago, we would never have thought could come true," he said.

"But it's down to the results we have achieved and it is recognition of the hard work we have put into reaching the right standard. It can only be a source of joy and honour."

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