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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
Olympic rugby, Welshmen going north and most tries by a Lion in a Test match
John Griffiths
June 22, 2009

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 offers an insight into Olympic rugby, Welshmen heading north to rugby league, the Lions' worst losing run and the most tries by a Lions in a Test match

Q. I am working on a forthcoming book and am looking for details of the US Olympics rugby team at the 1924 Olympics. Do you know where I could find such information? Petra Coghlin, England

A. The United States are the reigning Olympic Rugby champions, the Americans having defeated France 17-3 at Stade Colombes, Paris, in the 1924 Final. Only three nations competed - Romania "won" the bronze without winning a match.

The Olympic tournament took place in May, though the Americans played three warm-up matches in England during Easter Week against Devonport Services, Blackheath and Harlequins before leaving for France. Harlequins, bolstered by the inclusion of the star England fly-half, W J A "Dave" Davies, beat them 21-11 at Twickenham. The Americans used the New Zealand five-eighths and 2-3-2 scrum formation.

Details of the tour to England were given in Wisden's Rugby Football Almanack for 1924-25 and Rugby Football magazine for June 28th, 1924 covered the Olympic tournament. The Times of Monday May 19th, 1924 carried a report of the Final.

The French press also provided details of the tournament while the recent French publication Le Rugby aux Jeux Olympiques (by Pierre Vitalien) is an attractive collection of match reports and memorabilia relating to the Olympic rugby era (1900 to 1924).

Q. In about 1988 Jonathan Davies began an exodus "North" of full Welsh rugby internationals. Can you come up with the complete list? Dave John, Wales

Jonathan Davies joined Widnes in January 1989 after leading Wales in their autumn 1988 international against Romania which they lost 15-9 at Cardiff. Restricting the time span to the two years before and the two years after his move, Wales lost 11 senior capped players.

In 1987 and 1988 there were three Welsh union internationals who went "North":

David Bishop to Hull KR 1988
Stuart Evans to St Helens 1987
Adrian Hadley to Salford 1988

Terry Holmes, Gareth Pearce and Rob Ackerman had gone to league in 1985 and 1986.

Jonathan was among three full Welsh caps who joined Widnes in 1989 and altogether eight went to the league ranks in 1989 and 1990:

Allan Bateman to Warrington 1990
Jonathan Davies to Widnes 1989
John Devereux to Widnes 1989
Jonathan Griffiths to St Helens 1989
Mark Jones to Hull 1990
Paul Moriarty to Widnes 1989
Rowland Phillips to Warrington 1990
David Young to Leeds 1990

Among later high-profile league signings were Richard Webster and two who had not made their Welsh union cap debuts before Jonathan Davies had left, Scott Gibbs and Scott Quinnell.

Q.What is the Lions longest Test run without a victory? Anon

Saturday's defeat in Durban was the Lions' seventh Test without a win. Their last success came in Australia in the first Test at Brisbane when Brian O'Driscoll's try set them on the road to a 29-13 win. Since then their results read:

2001 - Lost 14-35 v Australia (Melbourne)
2001 - Lost 23-29 v Australia (Sydney)
2005 - Drawn 25-25 v Argentina (Cardiff)
2005 - Lost 3-21 v New Zealand (Christchurch)
2005 - Lost 18-48 v New Zealand (Wellington)
2005 - Lost 19-38 v New Zealand (Auckland)
2009 - Lost 21-26 v South Africa (Durban)

Only once before, from 1966 to 1968, have the tourists had a worse Test run (eight matches without victory):

1966 - Lost 3-20 v N Zealand (Dunedin)
1966 - Lost 12-16 v New Zealand (Wellington)
1966 - Lost 6-19 v New Zealand (Christchurch)
1966 - Lost 11-24 v N Zealand (Auckland)
1968 - Lost 20-25 v South Africa (Pretoria)
1968 - Drawn 6-6 v South Africa (Port Elizabeth)
1968 - Lost 6-11 v South Africa (Cape Town)
1968 - Lost 6-19 v South Africa (Johannesburg)

Q. What is the record for most tries by a Lion in a Test? Anon

Tom Croft equalled the record in Durban, becoming the first Lion since J J Williams 35 years ago to score two Tries in a Test. He is only the second forward in Lions history to achieve the feat. The full list of Lions who have scored a brace of tries in an official Test is:

Alfred Bucher v Australia - Sydney, 1899
Willie Llewellyn v Australia - Sydney, 1904
Carl Aarvold v New Zealand - Christchurch, 1930
Jimmy Nelson v Australia - Sydney, 1950
Malcolm Price v Australia - Sydney, 1959
Malcolm Price v New Zealand - Dunedin, 1959
Ken Jones v Australia - Brisbane, 1966
Gerald Davies v New Zealand - Christchurch, 1971
John (JJ) Williams v South Africa - Pretoria, 1974
John (JJ) Williams v South Africa - Port Elizabeth, 1974
Tom Croft v South Africa - Durban, 2009

Ireland's Jimmy Nelson and England's Tom Croft are the only forwards in the list. Nelson, who was a member of the 1948 Irish Grand Slam, is now his country's oldest surviving international. He will be 88 in September.

Q. How many times have New Zealand been led by a fullback in a Test? Anon

Mils Muliaina is only the second fullback to lead the All Blacks in Tests. The previous fullback to hold the honour was Auckland's Mick O'Leary in 1913, a year in which New Zealand selected two separate Test squads.

A team of 23 players undertook a 16-match visit to North America under the captaincy of Otago's Alex McDonald, a forward. The side for the first home Test of the season, against Australia in Wellington, was selected from the tour party and won the match 30-5 shortly before leaving New Zealand.

The second and third Tests against Australia were played on the following weekends when the main side was abroad. O'Leary led them, like Muliaina, to a win and a defeat.

Q. Both Wales and Ireland lost their oldest international players at the beginning of the month. Did they ever play against each other in a Test? Anon

Wales's Haydn Tanner and the Rev Ronnie Craig of Ireland died during the first week of June. Tanner was 92 and Craig 93.

They were on opposite sides in 1938 when Wales beat Ireland 11-5 at St Helen's Ground in Swansea, Tanner as scrum-half and Craig fullback.

Ireland scored a wonderful try in the opening minutes when wing Freddie Moran intercepted in his own half and ran sixty yards to score under the posts. Ireland were leading 5-3 when, just before half-time, their fly-half George Cromey was concussed and had to leave the field. There were no substitutes permitted then and Ireland had to play for more than half the match with 14 men. Sammy Walker, the new Irish captain, made such a good fist of leading the side that, on the strength of his performance, he was chosen to lead the British/Irish Lions on their summer tour of South Africa that year.

Blair Mayne, the noted Ireland and Lions lock forward, was singled out for praise by "Old Stager" of the Western Mail. "Mayne did well enough at the lines-out and the loose to be regarded as the best forward playing," Welsh readers were told on the Monday after the match.

Tanner went on to play for Wales until 1949 but Craig never again played rugby for Ireland. He was, however, a noted wicketkeeper/batsman in Northern Ireland cricket circles.

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