The Six Nations has gone through a significant number of changes since its inception.

The Six Nations Championship is one of the biggest dates in the rugby union calendar bringing together the best sides in Europe.

England, Wales, Ireland, France, Scotland and Italy compete every year for the prestigious championship trophy. Originally formed as the Home Nations Championship in 1883, the competition has blossomed over the years and became its current format in 2000 when Italy joined the Five Nations.

As this year's tournament takes a break for a week, we look back at the history of this yearly event that is only rivalled by the World Cup.

History

The idea of the Six Nations first began way back in 1883 when England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales competed in the Home Nations Championship. The first two years were dominated by England and Scotland before Wales came to the fore winning four titles between 1905 and 1909. When then the Home Nations ended in 1939 both Wales and Scotland racked up 11 championships each.

Professional rugby, along with many other sports, took a back seat between 1940 and 1946 as World War II raged across Europe. When it returned in 1947, the Home Nations had evolved into the Five Nations as France were added into the mix. It took the French a few years to get into their stride, sharing their first title in 1954 with England and Wales.

However, once they claimed their first outright crown in 1959, they came into their own. The 1960s and 1970s saw France dominate with Les Bleus winning no less than eight titles during this period. The Five Nations continued right up to the new millennium before it was rebranded once again.

This time it was the introduction of Italy that saw it expanded to the Six Nations. Since the expansion, Italy have had an absolutely wretched time of it, only collecting 11 wins out of 75*.

France and England have tended to dominate the new format collecting five and four titles respectively. However, the emergence of Wales, winning in 2005, 2008 and then back to back in 2012 and 2013 has added a new dimension to the tournament.

Games are played across Europe with Twickenham, Stade de France, the Aviva Stadium, Millennium Stadium and Stadio Olimpico hosting matches during the tournament.

What is up for grabs?

Aside from the grand prize for the Six Nation Championship, there are numerous little battles between sides for different trophies. The main goal for any aspiring champion is to secure a Grand Slam - winning a championship without dropping a single point. Since the inception of the Six Nations this has happened on eight separate occasions with Wales boasting the most in the modern era with three.

The Triple Crown involves Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England and is a homage to the Home Nations. Winning all home nations matches will see a team secure the Triple Crown. Ireland currently lead the way on this front in the Six Nations with four.

Following Grand Slams and Triple Crown comes a series of trophies contested between teams. The Calcutta Cup pits England and Scotland against each other, the Millennium Trophy is between England and Ireland, the Centenary Quaich is held between Ireland and Scotland while France and Italy play for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy.

Recent history

Since the dawn of the millennium, the Six Nations a hugely important date on the rugby calendar and one that both players and fans alike look forward to and relish. Despite previously dominating the Home Nations and Five Nations England only have one title win since 2003. Recent years have seen the emergence of a strong Welsh side.

Back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013 announced Wales onto the Six Nations stage. While they had previously won the tournament in 2005 and 2008, the 2012 win was a real watershed moment. Warren Gatland's young side cruised through the tournament, racking up an impressive win at Twickenham along to collecting the Grand Slam.

They were celebrating and year later with yet another title and what better way to do it than with 30-3 win over England at the Millennium Stadium? The victory was Wales' biggest ever over England and gave them their first back-to-back titles since winning the Five Nations in 1978 and 1979.

The 2014 Six Nations was all about Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, the iconic Irish number 13 rounded off a prestigious career helping his country lift their first title since 2009.

*prior to the 2015 Six Nations.

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