It may be one of the oldest tournaments in the world of rugby, but the tale of the Guinness Six Nations Trophy has a considerably more modern backstory. This weekend will see England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, and Italy kick off the annual showdown involving the cream of European rugby.
The winners – who will be crowned after the final weekend of fixtures on 18 March – will be presented with a Thomas Lyte trophy that was first lifted by Ireland back in 2015. But 30 years on from the inception of the tournament’s original crown, the story of this particular piece of sporting silverware is as intriguing as the plot twists that have unfolded on the field of play since 1993.
In a year of significant landmarks for the competition, not least the 140th anniversary of its inauguration, it’s worth remembering that for over a century the winners of the Four, then Five Nations, received little more than a pat on the back and 12-month bragging rights over their nearest and dearest rivals. Enter the Earl of Westmorland – and a firmly held belief that the then Five Nations was long overdue a fitting piece of silverware.
Having come up with the idea, a trophy was curated using 200 ounces of sterling silver. More importantly, for the winners at least, was the fact that this new creation could hold five bottles of champagne. Indeed, so tarnished did it become as a result of the constant fillings, that it ultimately had to be lined with 22-carat gold to protect it.
The fifteen-sided trophy – each axis representing a player involved in the tournament – also featured three handles, as a reminder of the importance of the referee and the two touch judges in maintaining the competition’s integrity.
By 2000, though, the introduction of Italy to the competition, meant that the prize conceived by the Earl needed an upgrade. One that was, ultimately, 15 years in the making.
Thomas Lyte are, of course, no strangers to Rugby Union. In fact, it’s inextricably linked with the sport’s most prestigious crowns across the international and club game. The official restorers of the men’s and women’s World Cups and Rugby 7s trophies, Thomas Lyte have also designed and made the Women’s Six Nations Trophy, EPCR Champions Cup, the URC Trophy, and the EPCR Challenge Cup. It’s quite a roll call. And one that, since 2015, has included the trophy that all eyes will be on this weekend and throughout the course of the 2023 competition.
By and large, the cast list of national teams remains the same – France joined the tournament in 1910 with Italy taking the number of teams to six – but the narrative that emerges from the sport’s oldest and most prestigious competition changes year-on-year.
Watching on, impassively neutral, is a trophy that still generates a buzz of excitement whenever it returns to London, to the Thomas Lyte fine silver workshops, to be restored and engraved. After all, the existence of this stunning piece of silverware extends well beyond the seven-or eight-week duration of the tournament itself.
Sitting at 75cm in height, the Six Nations crown took over 200 hours to create. Hand-spun from 7kg of sterling silver, the distinctive plinth contains the engraved names of every winner since 1883. It’s a piece of history that continues to evolve at the speed of a winger tearing down the line at Twickenham or Cardiff.
It’s hard to believe that for 110 years, there was no trophy associated with the contest. But for the last 30 years, the Five, then Six Nations, has been busy making up for lost time. Now it’s up for grabs again – England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy are all eyeing a fresh piece of history.
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