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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
Star-studded club XVs, France against the Soviet Union and Welsh cap games against the Barbarians
John Griffiths
June 6, 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 answers questions on the most caps in a club XV, France against the Soviet Union, early European club tournaments, the 1902 Canadian tour and Welsh cap games against the Barbarians.

Having recently seen the Crusaders v Waratahs Super-match, I was wondering what the record is for the most amount of international caps in a starting XV of a club side. Sven, Belgium

The match you referred to, of course, was between sides representing provincial franchises. In this respect, New South Wales were the first to give an entire fifteen to an international team. All fifteen Australian players in the third Test against New Zealand at the SCG in August 1907 were from the state. The match ended in a five-all draw.

The first club to field a fifteen in which ALL of their players were capped internationals at the time of the match is believed to have been Newport. Their team against Bristol on April 30th, 1921, was as follows: F W Birt (Wales); R C S Plummer (Wales), E D G Hammett (England), J J Wetter (Wales), J Shea (Wales); A Brown (Wales), T H Vile (Wales); R Edwards (England), W J Roche (Ireland), R Dibble (England), L Attewell (Wales), P L Jones (Wales), J Whitfield (Wales), N C Macpherson (Scotland), H Uzzell (Wales).

Newport won 17-0 and the team photo for that match features sixteen players - the reserve, Walter Martin, was also a Welsh international. Another Newport internationalist, Paul "Baker" Jones, had been capped by Wales against Scotland earlier the same season.

I have recently read about the Soviet Union national rugby team beating France twice in their history. Do you have any further information on this team and their results? Alec Dufraisse, Australia

The former Soviet Union won three times against France A (a side comprising fringe internationals) in the old FIRA Championship. The sides first met in November 1978 at Toulouse where France A won 29-7. The well-known Welsh official Clive Norling was due to referee the match, but he was fog-bound at Heathrow and unable to fulfil the appointment. After a 10-all draw between the sides in Moscow in May 1982, the Soviets pulled off a shock victory at Merignac in November the same year. They won 12-6, scoring the only try of the match through their winger Alexander Berzin in a match controlled by England's Roger Quittenton. Igor Mironov (on the wing) and Alex Tikhonov (in the pack) were among the best-known players in the winners' XV.

Both featured in a 15-9 win in Bordeaux four years later when Mironov, by now captain of the Soviet Union, contributed 11 goal points and threequarter Alexander Filiminov raced 60 metres for the game's only try.

Mironov was captain again in May 1988, contributing a late dropped goal to three forward tries (one of which was converted) to secure a 17-10 victory over a France A side that had had a gruelling four-day journey to Kutaisi.

France, it should be added, have never played a full international against Russia or the Soviet Union (whose last match was in May 1992). The Russians will appear in the RWC Finals for the first time later this year.

The European Cup is now a part of the club calendar. I believe FIRA had a club cup competition in the 1960s. Who were the winners? James Hothersall, Australia

The continental club competition was run amongst FIRA member unions on similar lines to the old European Cup in soccer. The first winners were Béziers (in 1962). Grivita Rosie (Bucharest) carried off the only other club title in 1964 before difficulties over travel costs and visas brought an end to the competition.

I believe a Canadian side made a full tour of the four Home Unions before the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies. Do you have any details of their results? Andrew Murray, Scotland

They certainly did. Although a New Zealand Native side had toured in 1888-89, it was not until 1905 that the first fully representative side from overseas - the New Zealand All Blacks - made the first international tour, taking in Tests against the four Home Unions and France. South Africa followed in 1906 and Australia in 1908 (though they did not meet Scotland or Ireland).

The first Canadian tour took place in the winter of 1902-03 though no Test matches were staged. They undertook a 21-match visit, winning seven, losing a dozen and drawing twice (both scoreless). They often played three games a week.

The details of their 1902-03 tour were as follows:
December 13, 1902: v Ulster - Won 11-8
December 15, 1902: v Dublin University - Lost 3-23
December 17, 1902: v Leinster - Lost 6-13
December 20, 1902: v Glasgow - Lost 3-11
December 25, 1902: v Edinburgh Acads - Lost 3-4
December 27, 1902: v Edinburgh Wands - Drawn 0-0
December 29, 1902: v North of Scotland - Won 5-0
January 1, 1903: v Hawick - Lost 0-11
January 3, 1903: v Jedforest - Won 8-3
January 5, 1903: v Harrogate - Won 5-0
January 7, 1903: v Cardiff - Lost 3-29
January 11, 1903: v Swansea - Lost 0-18
January 12, 1903: v Mountain Ash - Lost 0-25
January 19, 1903: v Bristol - Won 8-0
January 21, 1903: v Devonport Albion - Lost 4-34
January 24, 1903: v United Services - Drawn 0-0
January 28, 1903: v Oxford University - Lost 3-11
January 29, 1903: v Richmond - Lost 8-14
February 2, 1903: v London Scottish - Won 8-3
February 4, 1903: v Cambridge University - Lost 6-14
February 7, 1903: v Berkshire Wands - Won 16-11

Sixty years passed before the next representative Canadian side visited British/Irish shores.

Are Wales the only Home Union or Tri-Nations team that has awarded caps for its matches against the Barbarians? Stephen John, Wales

Wales have now awarded cap status to three matches with the Barbarians. Their first cap-game was in the autumn of 1990 when the Barbarians were celebrating their centenary. The Baa-Baas, spearheaded that day by Bath and England fly-half Stuart Barnes, won 31-24. Paul Thorburn's 21 points for Wales established a then-record haul by a Welsh player in a cap-match.

But the WRU's decision to award caps for a game against a club side sparked a controversy, one journalist describing the invitation side as "the good men of Barbaria." The month earlier England had fielded a Test-strength fifteen against the Baa-Baas at Twickenham in the inaugural fixture between the sides, but the RFU had declined to award cap-status to the match.

Welsh caps were awarded again in 1996 when Martyn Williams made his cap debut in a 31-10 Welsh victory. The winning score was again 31 (31-28 to the Barbarians) in the match at the weekend when Wales awarded caps for the third time.

Wales were the first nation to play the Barbarians. There was a non-cap match in 1915 at Cardiff in a game staged to raise money for War charities. The match was originally billed as "Wales v England", but the visiting side was described later as a "Scratch Barbarian Service XV." Playing with eight backs and seven forwards because of difficulties concerning player availability, the Baa-Baas unexpectedly won by 26-10 against a strong Welsh side that played in white jerseys.

Australia were the first of the overseas unions to play against the club (at Cardiff in 1948). South Africa (1952) and New Zealand (1954) followed, but like England, Scotland and Ireland none of the Tri-Nations has ever been moved to award caps for such games.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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