A record-breaking debut
November 19, 2010
Wales' George North made an eye-catching debut against South Africa last weekend © Getty Images
Vincent Clerc Dave Hewitt Frank Hewitt Tom Hewitt Keith Jarrett Drew Mitchell George North James O'Connor Topsy Ojo Tom Prydie Gareth Thomas
So quite how good was George North's debut for Wales last weekend? Two tries on debut is certainly hugely impressive, but hardly unprecedented. Topsy Ojo did it a couple of years ago against the All Blacks while among Welshmen Gareth Thomas started with a hat-trick against Japan at the 1995 World Cup and Willie Llewellyn launched one of the great careers of Wales's greatest era by crossing four times against England in 1899.
Nor did North quite manage to become Wales's youngest ever try-scorer. That record still stands to North's colleague at age-group level Tom Prydie, who crossed last time Wales faced the Boks in June. But a slightly deeper dig, enabled by our Statsguru database, shows that North did set some pretty striking records.
The first is that he is the youngest ever Welsh debutant try-scorer, erasing a record dating back 119 years to when Tom Pearson, aged 18 years and 238 days - two weeks older than North - scored against England at Rodney Parade, Newport. Pearson went on to be one of the outstanding players of the 1890s, described by W.J.T Collins, an accomplished and perceptive critic writing in 1948 from memories of more than six decades of top class rugby, as 'the greatest wing threequarter I have known'.
Wales' other 18-year-old first cap try scorer has reasonable claims to be the greatest debutant of all - Keith Jarrett, whose extraordinary long-range score against England in 1967 was merely the highlight of an astonishing display that brought him 19 points, then the joint second highest total by one player in a match between major rugby nations. Much has been made of North's English roots, but compared to Pearson - born in Bombay - and Jarrett, whose father was a South African Jew of Polish origins, King's Lynn seems profoundly unexotic.
Record number two is that North is the youngest debutant ever to have scored two tries in a match between major rugby nations. The qualifier 'major' is important. Gustavo Jorge of Argentina was not yet 18 and making his debut on the wing when, doubtless aided by the passing of centre Marcelo Loffreda, he scored six tries against Brazil in 1989. Argentina crossed 20 times in all as they won 109-3 and their series against Brazil has some claim to be the most one-sided in all rugby as they have scored 169 tries, an average of more than 15 per match, in 11 meetings. Jorge went on to score 24 times in 23 matches for the Pumas, including eight when they once more massacred the Brazilians in 1993 - the last time the fixture was played.
Eighteen year old debutants who have managed even a single try against a major nation have been a comparative rarity. The first, Charles Clark of Liverpool, a half-back picked in the first England team to play Ireland in 1875, was also playing in his last international.
Wales's trio are matched by three Irishmen who achieved the feat in the space of two years in the 1920s. There is little in international rugby history more remarkable than the case of the Hewitt brothers of Ireland, picked together for their debuts against Wales at Cardiff in 1924. Eighteen year old wing Tom scored, and so did 17 year old outside-half Frank, the youngest man to play for Ireland, who sold two superb dummies in a 35 yard solo run to the line.
Tom was at centre two years later when wing Jack Gage crossed in the corner on debut to make Ireland the first visiting team to win at Murrayfield. Gage, born in South Africa, returned home and was also capped by the Springboks against Australia in 1933.
The 1920s also saw Australia's Bill White cross on his debut against a New Zealand XV, a match now recognised by the Wallabies but not the All Blacks as a full Test, in 1928. More recently Zimbabwe's Victor Olonga, older brother of cricketer Henry, scored on his debut at home to Wales in 1994.
Record number three is that North is the youngest player ever to have scored two tries against a major nation, replacing James O'Connor, whose hat-trick for Australia against Italy last year was scored at the comparatively advanced age of 18 years 343 days. The 'major' qualifier here applies not only to Jorge but to Canada's Taylor Paris, who was 18 last month and has since celebrated by first making his debut on November 6 against Belgium and then last Saturday, the same day as North, scoring twice in the 60-22 hammering of Spain in Madrid.
Fourth and perhaps most impressive of the lot is that North is the first debutant to score twice against South Africa. Nearly 500 players have played their first international rugby against the Springboks and 34 had previously scored - including All Black immortal Bryan Williams, Wallaby Drew Mitchell, current French star Vincent Clerc and that fine English wing Chris Winn. None though, had done what North achieved when he coolly waited for Stephen Jones's cross-kick to arrive and went over in the right-hand corner during the second half on Saturday, claiming a second try on debut.
It remains to be seen whether he can add to this list of records in the seven matches potentially remaining to him before his birthday next April. Even if he plays them all, he will fall just short of the record for international appearances before your 19th birthday - nine by precocious Frenchman Claude Dourthe, father of Richard, in 1967.
Rather more accessible is Dourthe's mark of three tries against major teams (Jorge claimed nine, with the others coming against Uruguay (2) and Paraguay), shared with O'Connor.
Whatever he does, he will do extremely well ever to have another day on which he sets four records, one specific to Wales but the other three with a much wider range. Debuts don't come much more striking than that.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape
Move over, Castro - from falling off a chair to stepping off the team bus, Scrum Sevens recounts some of the strangest rugby injuries ever
Martin Gillingham on the latest from France and why the national side can learn a thing or two from Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles