For many rugby fans, all they will know is the Six Nationsbut it was previously the Five Nations before the turn of the century.

Before 2000, the tournament was contested between England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Walesuntil Italy joined the competition.

When and why did Italy join the Six Nations?

But why were the Azzurri to the big championship? Incredibly and contrary to recent evidence, Italy was introduced after a period of notable victories against teams from the Five Nations.

In 1997, they recorded home and away wins against Ireland and also beat France and Scotland, who would win the latter Five Nations in 1999.

Italy’s case was further strengthened on the first day of the 1998 tournament. With an odd number of teams, Wales used their bye week to tune up against Italia and barely managed a narrow 23-20 victory at Llanelli.

Their cause could no longer be ignored and they were finally welcomed to the tournamentwhich also served to create a nice symmetry of three games per weekend.

Italia couldn’t have had a better start in the Six Nations. In the first match of the 2000 tournament, Italia defeated the reigning champions of the Five Nations, Scotland, 34-20 at the Stadio Olimpico. However, that was the best they got, as four consecutive defeats saw Italia end up at the bottom of the table.

Since then, its place in the tournament has been questioned due to consistently poor results and long losing streaks.

Only once have Italy won consecutive matches, while they have finished with the wooden spoon 18 times in 24 appearances. The Italians They even had a 36-game losing streak until a win against Wales in 2022 broke that streak.

In 2023 They came close to beating several teams but finally went through another championship without victories. However, there is a belief that things could improve. Italia was about to defeat England in the first round of matches in 2024 and did so employing an entertaining style of rugby.

At club level, there is also growing momentum. The two professional teams – Benetton and Zebre – are made up mostly of Italians and play in the United Rugby Championship, with the former ranking second only to Leinster at the time of writing.

Both have also reached the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, which can only be positive in terms of gaining exposure to high-level rugby and hopefully inspiring a new generation in the sport.

The challenge now is to maintain and build on that momentum. They, and other national teams, have found ways to beat better-on-paper teams in the past and that’s what the Azzurri They should try to do so on a more regular basis if they want to become a real force to be reckoned with.

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