The wooden spoon is figurative booby prize awarded, in good-natured ridicule, to the team that finishes bottom of the table in the annual Six Nations rugby tournament. Historically, a real, physical wooden spoon was presented to the student who achieved the lowest mark in the final honours degree examinations, known as tripos, in mathematics at Cambridge University, but still earned a third-class degree. The last such spoon was awarded at Cambridge University in 1909, but 15 years earlier, the ‘South Wales Daily Post’ had already used the term, in the correct sense, in connection with rugby union.
The Six Nations began life as the Home Nations Championship – as the name suggests, featuring just England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – in 1883. Since then, Ireland has won the wooden spoon 29 times, followed by Scotland on 21, England on 19 and Wales on 16. The Home Nations Championship became the Five Nations Championship between 1910-1931 and 1947-1999, with the addition of France, and the Six Nations Championship from 2000 onwards, with the addition of Italy. France has won the wooden spoon 12 times, but Italy has already finished bottom of the table in 13 of its 19 appearances.
Rugby union is the most popular form of rugby, globally, and is played in over a hundred countries on six countries. Indeed, rugby union is the national sport in developed countries, such as New Zealand, Wales, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Georgia – all of whom have played, at one time or another, in the Rugby World Cup – and even in Madagascar, which is one of the least developed countries in the world, according to the United Nations.
Half a dozen players have scored 50 or more tries in international rugby, but the leading tryscorer of all time is the former Japanese wing, and occasional centre, Daisuke Ohata. Ohata rose to prominence in the World Rugby Sevens Series but, having scored a hat-trick on his debut for the Japanese national team on November 9, 1996, went on to play 58 test matches. All in all, he scored 69 tries and, while his record was criticised because he spent much of his career playing inferior nations, he also scored tries against against France, Ireland, Wales and Argentina.
Second place on the list of all-time tryscorers in international rugby is former South African wing Bryan Habana, with 67 tries. A Rugby World Cup winner in 2007, Habana also jointly holds the record, with Jonah Lomu, for the number of tries scored in a single Rugby World Cup tournament (8) and for the number of tries scored at the Rugby World Cup (15). Habana is closely followed by former Australian wing and full-back David ‘Campo’ Campese, with 64 tries in 101 test matches; Campese was the first Australian player to participate in hundred test matches.
Nowadays, World Rugby specifies the shape, dimensions and weight of the modern rugby ball, which must be elliptical, made of four panels and weigh between 410 and 460 grams. Dimensions-wise, the ball must be between 280 and 300mm in length, with an end-to-end circumference of between 740 and 770mm and a circumference between 580 and 620mm around the middle, or width, of the ball.
However, in the early pioneering days of rugby, during the nineteenth century, rugby balls were typically made from raw pigs’ bladders inflated, by mouth, with a clay pipe stem, covered in leather and stitched together by hand. Consequently, the ball took on, more or less, the shape of the bladder; larger and more spherical than the modern rugby ball. In 1892, the governing body of rugby union in England, the Rugby Football Union, decreed that the rugby ball should be oval. Subsequently, the original plum-shaped rugby became flatter and more elongated, with more tapered ends, making it more suitable for handling and kicking during a rugby match.