Major Rugby Union Events

The most important tournament in rugby union is the Rugby World Cup, a men's tournament that takes place every four years among the elite national rugby union teams.

South Africa won the 2007 tournament held in France. They beat 2003 winners England in the final; no World Cup winner has yet retained the trophy.

England were the first team from the Northern Hemisphere to win, the previous champions being New Zealand (1987), Australia (1991 and 1999), South Africa (1995 and 2007). Major international competitions are the Six Nations Championship and the Tri Nations Series, held in the northern and southern hemispheres respectively.

Meanwhile, The Six Nations is an annual competition involving the European teams England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. Each country plays the other countries once.

France joined the tournament in the 1900s and in 1910 the term Five Nations first appeared. However, the Home Nations (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) excluded France in 1931 amid a run of poor results, allegations of professionalism (rugby union was officially amateur until 1995) and concerns over on-field violence.

France then rejoined in 1939-1940, though World War II halted proceedings for a further eight years. France has played in all the tournaments since WWII, the first of which was played in 1947. In 2000, Italy became the sixth nation in the contest and Rome's Stadio Flaminio, where their games are played, is the smallest venue in the tournament. France are the reigning Six Nations champions, having won a Grand Slam by a final 12-10 victory over England on 20 March 2010.

The Tri Nations, another major Rugby Union Event, is an annual international series held between the southern hemisphere teams of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These teams have dominated world rankings in recent years and some consider the Tri Nations to be the toughest competition in international rugby.

The Tri Nations was initially played on a home and away basis with the three nations playing each other twice. In 2006 a new system was introduced where each nation plays the others three times, though in 2007 the teams played each other only twice, as it was a World Cup year. Especially since Argentina's strong performances in the 2007 World Cup, a number of commentators believed they should join the Tri-Nations.

This was first seriously proposed for the 2008 tournament, then for 2010, but came much closer to reality after the 2009 Tri Nations tournament, when SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand and Australian Rugby) extended an official invitation to the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) to join an expanded Four Nations tournament in 2012. This move has generally been met with great approval from all parties involved. The invitation is subject to certain conditions, like the guaranteed availability of Argentina's top players, most of whom play professional club rugby in Europe at present.

Amidst all the international competitions there are also various Test matches and series, often as part of tours by national teams, which generally take place from September to December and from June to August.

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