Sport's Most Unwanted Prize - How The Six Nations Gave The World The Wooden Spoon

The metaphorical trophy goes to any team finishing in last place
06:56, 19 Jan 2020

Perhaps best known in day-to-day life for stirring winter broths or whacking younger siblings while mum isn’t looking, the wooden spoon is a utensil that has far outstripped the limitations of its millennia-old inception.

Sporting parlance has long adopted the wooden spoon, demoting it well behind the wooden knife or fork, apparently. Most sports fan can tell you that the Wooden Spoon is, in effect, the trophy for last place, and a most popular award, insult or accolade in the Six Nations.

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While this most unwanted of honours has traditionally become an award routinely rotated between Italy and Scotland, France and Wales have each stepped in to claim a rotation, in 2003 and 2013 respectively. 

Italy have claimed so many Wooden Spoons though - with 14 to their name in 20 campaigns - that there have been regular calls in recent years for the ever-improving Georgia to be promoted to take their place.

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History tells us that the original Wooden Spoon arose from Cambridge University, handed out each year to the student who received the lowest marks in Mathematics but still earned a third-class degree – some, small consolation for the dropouts.  

And while he lives, he wields the boasted prize
Whose value all can feel, the weak, the wise;
Displays in triumph his distinguish'd boon,
The solid honours of the Wooden Spoon

Extract: The Cambridge Tart: 1823

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Record of the earliest Wooden Spoon can be traced back as far as 1803, but it was discontinued once the university began handing out grades in alphabetical value, thus making it impossible to adjudge that year’s sole winner. Unlike the Six Nations, Cambridge’s award was physical in its nature, with a new spoon nailed to the wall each year with the winner’s/loser’s name etched in for the annals. Over the years, the spoons grew in size and absurdity.

In 1894, the South Wales Daily Post published one of the earliest mentions of the spoon within a rugby context, noting that the ignominious trophy would be handed to the loser of Ireland vs Wales during the Home Nations Championship - the Six Nations' forerunner - that year.

The Wooden Spoon has since been adopted by Australian and New Zealand sports most prominently, no doubt in thanks to the strong link rugby union shares between the northern and southern hemispheres. 

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Australia seem particularly fond of the award, with imaginative, real and comically large wooden spoons waved at sporting events with some regularity. Australian Rules, soccer, cricket and rugby league have all had a variation on the trophy as a result of rugby union, while even tennis, sailing and rowing have come to love its comic value. The Duchess of Cambridge was notably handed a giant wooden spoon at the King's Cup sailing regatta in 2019, such synonymous has it become in a wider sporting context.

The Wooden Spoon has even migrated its way across the Atlantic, with Major League Soccer awarding the lowest-ranked team the award, with an official trophy commissioned in 2016.

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From Cambridge to Italy and as far as Perth, the Wooden Spoon is not a coveted award, but it is a traditional part of the Six Nations and a growing force within the wider sporting world.