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John Griffiths | Columnist Index
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
Marc Lievremont's selections, the longest World Cup winning streak and World Cup kicking rates
John Griffiths
October 28, 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 Marc Lievremont's selections, the longest World Cup winning streak, players who have turned out at fullback and hooker for the All Blacks, teams playing five Tests against the same opponents in under a year and World Cup 2011 kicking rates.

Marc Lievremont fielded an unchanged starting fifteen for the RWC semi-final against Wales. How many times had he done that previously in his spell as French coach and how many players has he used during his tenure?Chris, England

Before the semi-final - under Lievremont since the last World Cup France had played 43, won 26 and lost 17 - for a success rate of 60.5%.

The semi-final against Wales was the first time on his watch that the same starting fifteen had taken the field for successive Tests. His most conservative selections before the RWC semi-finals were during France's 2010 Grand Slam. He made two changes to the starting fifteen a couple of times that year and, after defeating Italy in the penultimate match of the Championship, there was only ONE change for the Grand Slam win against England in Paris: Basteareud returning to the side in the #13 shirt for Marty.

For the Ireland game in this season's Six Nations there was also only ONE starting change from the side that had beaten Scotland (effectively Poitrenaud in for Mermoz), but he did shuffle positionally, Traille moving from fullback to centre.

All told he had called on to the field 82 players for his 43 Tests up to the semi-final. More than a quarter of these played no more than twice: ten appeared once under Lievremont and 14 just twice.

His go-to men were: Thierry Dusautoir (37 matches); Lionel Nallet (36); Morgan Parra (34 though only three of his starts before the semi-final - all during the RWC - were in the #10 shirt); Francois Trinh-Duc (also 34); Nicolas Mas (33); Dimitri Szarzewski (32); Julien Bonnaire (31); and Imanol Harinordoquy (29).

What is the longest winning streak in RWC tournaments?David Martin, England

Australia won a dozen in a row between 1999 and 2003.

In 1999 there were four nations in each of the pools. The Wallabies were unbeaten in their three games and went on to win the title. For the 2003 tournament in Australia the format changed to five nations in each pool. The Aussies won all four of their pool games but, after beating Scotland and New Zealand in the knock-out stages, succumbed to England (after extra time) in the Final.

South Africa's recent quarter-final defeat by Australia ended their eleven-match run of victories that had carried them to the 2007 RWC title and through the pool stages of the current tournament.

New Zealand, winners of the first tournament in 1987, won their first ten RWC matches, their run coming to an end in the semi-final (against Australia) in Dublin in 1991. South Africa, who did not enter the competition until 1995, also won their first ten matches in RWC play. Their series of wins ended after extra time against Australia in the Twickenham semi-final of the 1999 tournament.

Although England reached back-to-back finals after winning in 2003, they were beaten by South Africa early on in the pool stages of the 2007 tournament in France.

Has there ever been a fullback that has also been used as a hooker?Uwe Diedrichs, Germany

This has taken some researching! Players have taken the field as back-row forwards and as full-backs in Tests (like Wales's J P R Williams and France's René Lasserre), but it is extremely rare to find cases where a player has started different matches for his country as a specialist hooker and as a specialist full-back. (There might well be cases where injuries necessitated team changes that resulted in a full-back playing hooker, or vice-versa.)

In the first few decades of Test rugby forwards were selected for their all-round abilities. Hooking, moreover, was not a part of the game in the 1870s and 1880s. It was not until the early years of the nineteenth century that heeling the ball back at the scrummage became the norm and the first specialist hookers began to emerge.

One, however, who did start as a hooker AND as a full-back for his country was New Zealand's Charles Brown. He toured Australia with the 1920 All Blacks, played half-back (scrum-half) in the first three games of the tour before switching to start at full-back in the next three. He made two further tour appearances at scrum-half as the All Blacks completed an unbeaten visit.

Reaching home the side played an official New Zealand match against Wellington, winning 38-3 in front of a crowd of 10,000. For that match Brown started as hooker.

One of the few who appeared for the All Blacks both before and after the Great War, he was also a prominent member of NZ Forces teams that featured in tournaments in France and Britain in the 1918-19 season. He played in the team that won the King's Cup tournament in Britain and led the NZ Army team that visited South Africa in 1919.

I wonder if you could tell me which player has the best kicking success rate at RWC 2011? In particular, I have a wager on Ronan O'Gara with a bookmaker- I think he's 18 from 20 (90%), but is there anybody higher? Mark Clarke, Ireland

Ronan O'Gara finished the RWC with 18 successful place-kicks from 21 attempts for a success-rate of 85.7%. - the same success-rate as France's Morgan Parra (12/14). O'Gara missed a conversion in the match against the United States and another in the match against Russia. He also missed a penalty shot against Italy.

Among those who took at least six shots at goal during the RWC only South Africa's Ruan Pienaar finished with a 100% record

O'Gara was also pipped by Wales's Stephen Jones whose 13 successes from 15 attempts left him with a success-rate of 86.6%.

With Australia meeting Wales in the Bronze Final at the RWC, then in December in Cardiff and again next June in a three-Test series, they will have played five consecutive Tests against the same opponents in the space of nine months. Is there a precedent?K O'Donnell, Australia

Twice in the past eighty years Australia have played five Tests in a row against the same full international opponents in a shorter span.

In 1933 they undertook a five-match Test series in South Africa - the only such series in the history of Test rugby. South Africa won the rubber (played between July and September) by three Tests to two.

Twenty-nine years later the Wallabies played back-to-back series against the All Blacks. In May/June 1962 they lost the home series 2-0. Then, in August and September, they toured New Zealand where, after drawing the opening Test 9-9 in Wellington, they lost the final two Tests.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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