Ask John
The Wooden Spoon, Leinster-Leicester Heineken Cup matches and multi-code players
John Griffiths
April 11, 2011
Former Biarritz player Karmichael Hunt in action in the AFL, Western Bulldogs v Gold Coast Suns, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Australia, April 9, 2011
Former Biarritz player Karmichael Hunt in Aussie Rules action for the Gold Coast Suns © Getty Images

Welcome to the latest edition of Ask John where renowned rugby historian John Griffiths will answer any rugby-related query you have!

So, if there's something you've always wanted to know about the game we love but didn't know who to ask, or you think you can stump our expert - then get involved by sending us a question.

In this edition John answers questions on the Wooden Spoon, Leinster-Leicester matches and multi-code players.

Do you have any details of the France-England Under-21s match in 1998? It was one of Jonny Wilkinson's last for England age-group sides before he won his first senior cap. Anon, England

The match took place at Mazamet on February 6, 1998 and England won it by a point thanks to Wilkinson's kicking.

France U21 (1G 1PG 1T) 15 England U21 (1G 3PG) 16

France U21: C Heymans; B Lhande, S Bonetti, M Barrau, J Marlu; J-B Elissalde, N Morlaes; P Astruc, R Vigneaux (captain), P Perrin, N Spanghero, O Olibeau, A Audebert, D Chouchan, G Cloup Replacements: Martinez for Olibeau (53 mins); Prat for Perrin (53 mins); L Salies for Elissalde (57 mins); Perrin back for Prat (76 mins); P Bosque for Bonetti (78 mins) Scorers: Tries Heymans, Elissalde Conversion Elissalde Penalty Goal Elissalde

England U21: M J Horak; P C Sampson, M J Oliver, J A Pritchard, L D Lloyd; J P Wilkinson, P C Richards; M A Worsley, A E Long (captain), V Hartland, J J Beardshaw, J A Winterbottom, J C Cockle, J P R Worsley, L W Moody Replacements: P H Sanderson for J Worsley (32 mins); A Kershaw for M Worsley (44 mins); D C P Thompson for Horak (65 mins) Scorers: Try Beardshaw Conversion Wilkinson Penalty Goals Wilkinson (3)

Referee: Mr T Redmond (Ireland)

Seven weeks later Wilkinson won his first senior cap for England (at the age of 18), called off the bench by Clive Woodward for a cameo appearance as a last-minute replacement for Mike Catt on the right-wing against Ireland at Twickenham.

Here in Italy newspapers were writing about the Wooden Spoon a few weeks ago. There are two ideas about its use. In France and in Italy the tradition is wooden spoon to the team that loses all its matches. In England it is different: the Wooden Spoon is for the team at the bottom of the table. What is the origin of the term? WP, Italy

The term "Wooden Spoon" in the Home Unions means finishing in LAST position - bottom of a table. The team that loses every match is said to be "whitewashed", though obviously any team that loses all its matches will also finish in last position.

Tables for the unofficial positions in the International Championship - it didn't become an official Five Nations tournament until the early 1990s - first appeared in the rugby annuals of the early 1890s. By 1896 the national press were using them to classify the nations at the end of the season, The Times notably introducing such tables with the phrase, "the results of the international contest come out thus."

From the late 1890s and early 1900s the newspapers were regularly using the terms "Wooden Spoon" for the team propping up the table and "Triple Crown" for the one that beat all other members of the Home Unions (France were not involved in the Championship until 1910).

The wooden spoon was traditionally a booby prize given at the University of Cambridge (up to the 1870s when it was forbidden) to the mathematician who finished last in his class, establishing the origin of the expression in British/Irish sport for the team finishing bottom of a tournament.

How many times have Leicester and Leinster met in the Heineken Cup? Mark Simpson, England

Saturday's quarter-final was the tie-breaker for the teams: they had previously met ten times with five wins apiece.

The first meeting was back in October 1996. It was Leicester's first-ever foray in the tournament because the English clubs had not participated in 1995-96, the competition's first season. Leicester went to Lansdowne Road with a strong fifteen and emerged 27-10 winners of the pool game.

The last meeting before Saturday's was in the 2009 Cup Final at Murrayfield. Rocky Elsom was the man-of-the-match that day, combining with his compatriot Chris Whitaker to help Leinster recover from a 16-9 deficit to win 19-16. Jamie Heaslip scored a try, Brian O'Driscoll dropped a goal and Johnny Sexton kicked a conversion, two penalties and a dropped goal for the Irish side.

1996-97 - Leinster 10-27 Leicester (Pool)
1997-98 - Leinster 16-9 Leicester (Pool)
1997-98 - Leicester 47-22 Leinster (Pool)
1999-2000 - Leinster 27-20 Leicester (Pool)
1999-2000 - Leicester 10-32 Leinster (Pool)
2001-02 - Leicester 29-18 Leinster (Quarter-Final)
2004-05 - Leinster 13-29 Leicester (Quarter-Final)
2007-08 - Leinster 22-9 Leicester (Pool)
2007-08 - Leicester 25-9 Leinster (Pool)
2008-09 - Leinster 19-16 Leicester (Final)
2010-11 - Leinster 17-10 Leicester (Quarter-Final)

As an indication of how even the series has been, it will be noted that there has never been more than one win separating the sides.

NB: The pool stages did not embrace home and away ties until 1997-98

What were the match day squads from the 2000 Six Nations game between Ireland v Scotland? Ben Saunders, England

That was the game that saw Ronan O'Gara, Shane Horgan, Simon Easterby, Peter Stringer and John Hayes make their international debuts for Ireland. Keith Wood and Bryan Redpath were the respective captains.

Click here for full details of the game via Statsguru

Last weekend former Biarritz player Karmichael Hunt switched codes and was due to make his debut for the Gold Coast in the Australian Football League. Have any other first class rugby players played another code of football (other than league) at the highest level? James Hothersall, Australia

In the late nineteenth century there were three Englishmen who were capped at both soccer and rugby: Reg Birkett (who had the distinction of scoring England's first try in international rugby), Charles Wilson and John Sutcliffe. Henry Renny-Tailyour won dual honours for Scotland (scoring his country's first international goal at soccer when they lost 4-2 to England in 1873).

Birkett played for the Clapham Rovers club which was formed in 1869. The club originally fielded a team that played under rugby rules and soccer rules on alternate weekends. Even when the club's membership quickly became strong enough to field separate rugby and soccer teams each weekend, many of its leading players were proficient at both football codes.

Renny-Tailyour played in three FA Cup Finals for the Royal Engineers, in 1872, 1874 and 1875, when they won 2-0 against the Old Etonians. Birkett was in the Clapham Rovers side that won the 1880 Final 1-0 against Oxford University and Sutcliffe was in goal for Bolton Wanderers when they lost the 1894 Final 4-1 to Notts County.

Ernie Hammett, who played rugby for Newport and England after the Great War, won a soccer cap for the Welsh Amateurs in 1912 and played amateur football for Treharris and Newport County before the war.

Phil Hopkins, who played in the Welsh side that beat Australia and won the Triple Crown in 1908-09, was a reserve for the Welsh soccer team, while Ben Beynon, who played outside-half for Wales against Scotland at Inverleith in February 1920 scored two goals for Swansea Town in their 3-1 win against QPR the week later. Beynon had played soccer as an amateur for the "Swans" in 1914 but signed on as a pro in 1920 - sufficient grounds, it was reported, for the Welsh Rugby Union to withhold his rugby cap. He later played rugby league for Oldham and won a Challenge Cup medal with them in 1925 (beating Hull KR 16-3).

The best-known Irish exponents of soccer and rugby were the O'Flanagan brothers, Mick and Kevin who won representative honours at both codes in the 1940s. As a medical student in London after the Second World War Kevin O'Flanagan played rugby for London Irish one weekend and soccer as an amateur for Arsenal the next.

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