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John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, including The Book of English International Rugby, The Book of International Rugby Records, British Lions, The Five Nations Championship, Rugby's Strangest Matches and Rugby's Greatest Characters. He was a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph for 19 years and is co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has also provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.
Ask John
Red & Yellow cards, Romania's record, Test status and Tri-Nations tours to France
John Griffiths
August 1, 2011

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 Griffiths looks at the history of red and yellow cards, the Romanian national side, Test status and Tri-Nations tours to France.

Can you please provide a bit of a history of the yellow card sin bin in rugby. As an example from the 1997 Tri-Nations match in Pretoria between South Africa and Australia (won 61-22 by South Africa) both Pieter du Randt and Joost van der Westhuizen were shown yellow-cards but did not go off for 10 minutes, yet when James Holbeck of Australia was shown a yellow card by Paddy O'Brien he was also "sent" to the sin bin for 10 minutes. What were the rules of "yellow-cards" and "sin bins" in this era and when did a 10 minute suspension first go hand-in-hand with a yellow card? When were yellow cards first used? Andrew de Klerk, South Africa

The first player to be shown a yellow card in a Test was England's Ben Clarke for stamping on his Bath club-mate Simon Geoghegan during the 1995 Ireland-England Five Nations match in Dublin. In those days yellow cards were no more than an official warning: the player was allowed to stay on the field.

Australia's James Holbeck was the first player to be sin-binned in a Test when he went off near the end of that 1997 Tri-Nations match against South Africa in Pretoria. At the time, however, yellow cards still signalled no more than a referee's warning, which is why Pieter du Randt and Joost van der Westhuizen stayed on the field.

For the 1997 Tri-Nations the organisers adopted the experimental sin-bin rule that had been in operation during the Super 12 tournament earlier that season. A player could be temporarily sent to the bin by the referee as part of a scale of sanctions that ranged from the yellow-card warning via the temporary expulsion to the full sending off.

Indeed, it was only when Holbeck returned to the field one minute from the end of that match that many present, unaware of the experiment, realised that he had not been permanently excluded.

The yellow-card has been used to signal ten minutes in the sin-bin since 2000.

Due to red\yellow cards, what is the fewest number of players a team has had on the pitch in a Test match? Huw Davies, Wales

There are several instances where a team has had two men sent off in a Test, and early in Martin Johnson's reign as coach England had four men yellow-carded and sent to the sin-bin against New Zealand (at Twickenham in November, 2008).

Lee Mears (22-32 mins), James Haskell (31-41 minutes), Toby Flood (42-52 mins) and Tom Rees (75 mins to the end) were yellow-carded so that England, who lost 32-6, effectively played for nearly forty minutes with 14 men.

The fewest number of players on the field at the end of a Test through indiscipline is 12. In the Pacific Nations Cup decider in July this year Japan beat Fiji 24-13 in Lautoka. The Islanders had two men red-carded and three yellow-carded.

Fiji's captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu received a first-half yellow card and before half-time Sisa Koyamaibole was ordered off for dangerous play. Seremaia Bai was yellow-carded after the re-start before centre Seru Rabeni was permanently dismissed for a high tackle. Before the end of the match replacement Waisea Luveniyali became the third Fijian to see yellow reducing the Fijians to 12 men until no-side.

I am a very keen rugby statistician and have noticed that Romania have been accorded nearly 8,000 total points. This seems impossible even calculating all their tries at five points. Could you please investigate? Ian Gray, Australia

The Romanian Rugby Federation was founded in 1914 and placed its first national side in the field in Paris in 1919 when they took part in a post-war festival involving Army sides from France and the United States. In 1924 the Romanians won the Bronze Medal at the Paris Olympics (finishing behind the USA and France).

Romania's purple patch came between 1957 and 1988. In Bucharest in May 1957 in front of 95,000 spectators - a world record rugby attendance up to that time - Romania led France 15-9 with only 15 minutes remaining. France managed to equalise and only a late 40-metre penalty goal drop-kicked by fullback Michel Vannier brought the French a narrow 18-15 victory.

L'Equipe, the French sporting newspaper, described Romanian rugby as "la sixième force" in its report of the 1957 game and during the 1960s, when the Oaks defeated France 11-5 (in 1960), 3-0 (in 1962) and 15-14 (in 1968) there were regular calls for the Romanians to be admitted to a Six Nations tournament. (The French were Five Nations champions in 1960 and 1962 and won the Grand Slam in 1968).

Romania were always tough opponents in Bucharest as Eddie Butler's Welsh team found in 1983. Romania sent the full Wales team packing 24-6 and showed the result was no flash in the pan when they triumphed 15-9 against Jonathan Davies' Welsh side in Cardiff five years later.

The Oaks regularly vied with France for the FIRA Championship titles in the 1970s and 1980s, rattling up some very big wins against the lesser continental rugby nations. They have qualified for all six Rugby World Cup tournaments to date and will be in the same pool as England, Scotland, Argentina and Georgia in New Zealand this year.

All told Romania have fielded their national side just over 400 times including more than 350 full internationals. They have amassed nearly 8,000 points in these international fixtures at an average of just over 22 points a match - hardly unreasonable when you consider that, like most nations, the majority of their international matches have been played since the 1970s in the four-point and five-point try era.

Romania's biggest Test win was 100-0 against Bulgaria in September 1976 and their biggest Test defeat was 134-0 against England at Twickenham in November 2001.

After Samoa's inaugural Test win over Australia, I have been looking at which Test teams have ever had wins over SA, NZ or Australia. Statsguru has been helpful but can you please confirm whether Test caps were awarded by either side in any of the following matches: Australia v NZ Maori (1922 - 1958); NZ v Rhodesia (1949); South Africa v NZ Cavaliers (1986). Paul Johns, New Zealand

There were 16 matches played between Australia and the Maori between 1922 and 1958. Rugby in Queensland ceased in the 1920s and only New South Wales played the game up to 1929. Even so, about 20 years ago the Australian Rugby Union accorded retrospective full Test status to the games played in the 1920s. The matches from 1931 to 1958 were always regarded as full Aussie Tests.

The summary of these games is as follows:

Australia v New Zealand Maori
Tests Played 16, Australia won 8, New Zealand Maori won 6, Drawn 2

1922
New Zealand Maori 25-22 (Sydney)
Australia 28-13 (Sydney)
New Zealand Maori 23-22 (Sydney)

1923
Australia 27-23 (Sydney)
Australia 21-16 (Sydney)
Australia 14-12 (Sydney)

1928
New Zealand Maori 9-8 (Wellington)

1931
Australia 14-3 (Palmerston North)

1936
Australia 31-6 (Palmerston North)

1946
New Zealand Maori 20-0 (Hamilton)

1949
New Zealand Maori 12-3 (Sydney)
Drawn 8-8 (Brisbane)
Australia 18-3 (Sydney)

1958
Australia 15-14 (Brisbane)
Drawn 3-3 (Sydney)
New Zealand Maori 13-6 (Melbourne)

The 1949 match between the New Zealanders and Rhodesia is not regarded as a Test match by the All Blacks, nor do the New Zealanders recognise the four matches played by the New Zealand Cavaliers against South Africa in 1986, although the Springboks do.

The summary of that series reads:

South Africa v New Zealand Cavaliers
Played 4, South Africa won 3, New Zealand Cavaliers won 1, Drawn 0

1986
South Africa 21-15 (Cape Town)
New Zealand Cavaliers 19-18 (Durban)
South Africa 33-18 (Pretoria)
South Africa 24-10 (Johannesburg)

The Southern Hemisphere sides famously used to undertake months long tours of the UK and France. The results against British/Irish clubs and provinces are fairly well documented. However, do you have their results against the French selections/clubs which they faced? Dan S, England

The details up to 1991 were given in previous columns in July. The results for the Tri-Nations on tours to France since then follow:

1992 Springboks L 17-24 v French Selection; W 29-22 v Aquitaine Selection; W 18- 15 v Mid-Pyrenees Selection; W 41-12 v Provence-Cote d'Azur Selection; W 20-15 v FRANCE; W 36-15 v Languedoc Selection; L 16-29 v FRANCE; L 13-18 v French Universities; L 20-25 v French Barbarians

1993 Wallabies W 30-15 v Aquitaine Selection; W 20-19 v South-West Selection; W 35-18 v Languedoc-Roussillon Selection; W 24-23 v South-East Selection; L 13-16 v FRANCE; L 15-21 v Provence-Littoral Selection; W 24-3 v FRANCE; W 43-26 v French Barbarians

1995 All Blacks W 34-19 v French Barbarians; W 30-9 v Languedoc-Roussillon Selection; W 47-20 v Cote Basque-Landes Selection; L 15-22 v FRANCE; W 55-17 v French Selection; W 37-12 v FRANCE

1996 Springboks L 22-30 v French Barbarians; W 36-20 v South-East Selection; W 22-12 v FRANCE; L 13-20 v French Universities; W 13-12 v FRANCE

1997 Springboks L 22-40 v French Barbarians; W 36-32 v FRANCE; L 7-21 v France A; W 52-10 v FRANCE

1998 Wallabies W 24-9 v France A; W 32-31 v FRANCE

Since 1999 the majority of matches played on tours made by the Tri-Nations to France have been full Tests.

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