The rule of four
February 16, 2011
Greg Cornelsen scored four times against the All Blacks in 1978 © Getty Images
England wing Chris Ashton may have generated more attention for his swallow dive than his four tries against Italy last weekend, but the Northampton winger's scoring feats put him among some esteemed company. In our latest Scrum Seven we've run the rule over some of the players that have breached the opposition defence on four occasions at international level.
Prior to Ashton's weekend fireworks, Poulton-Palmer was the last English player to cross the whitewash four times in a Championship match and he did so from midfield, rather than the wing. His quartet of tries came in a rousing win over France in Colombes in 1914, part of a Five Nations Grand Slam. Heir to the Huntley and Palmer biscuit business in Reading, he captained England during their victory and also found time during a short career to score five tries in the 1909 Varsity Match for Oxford. Tragically, Poulton-Palmer's exploits came only a year before his death on the Western Front, where he was killed by a sniper's bullet at Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium, aged 25.
Most players only score four tries against the All Blacks in their dreams. Wallaby flanker Greg Cornelsen scored four tries against them at Eden Park, which is some going. His 1978 feat did not bring the Bledisloe Cup across the Tasman but it did ensure a place in the record books as the first forward since 1881 to score four tries in a Test. It also left a mark on future Wallabies skipper John Eales. He recalled, "I walked outside and met my neighbour, he said 'did you watch the Test against the All Blacks?' I said 'yeah, we flogged them easy, it was just New Zealand' and he pulled me aside and said 'you don't realise what you've just seen, because what you have just seen has never happened before in the history of Australia-New Zealand Test matches. When it comes to rugby there is no team better than the All Blacks, what you have seen is something very, very rare.'"
Ian Smith - Scotland v France/Wales v Scotland, 1925
Shane Williams and Brian O'Driscoll are breathing down the neck of Smith's record as the highest try-scorer in Five/Six Nations history and while the legendary duo will likely eclipse his mark of 24 sooner rather than later, one of the Scottish winger's feats will remain beyond their grasp. In 1925, during Scotland's march to a Grand Slam, Smith scored four tries in consecutive Championship matches. On January 24 his quartet of scores helped the Scots rout France 25-4 at Inverleith while on February 7 his four scores underpinned a 24-14 victory over Wales at St. Helen's in Swansea. Pretty good going.
Richards was a special player, whose scoring exploits took him to the top of the ladder in both union and league. A British & Irish Lion in South Africa in 1968, he ran four tries past England in Cardiff the following year to help Wales to a Triple Crown and Championship, their copybook blotted only by an 8-8 draw with France in Colombes. Later in the year he crossed codes and joined Salford, playing for Wales in the 13-man code and completing the ultimate for a dual international by adding two caps for Great Britain, against Australia and New Zealand, to his Lions honours.
Wales' record in New Zealand is pitiful and John Kirwan had a bear-sized hand in ensuring it stayed that way when the men in red arrived on tour in 1988. The legendary winger crossed four times against the tourists in Christchurch to set up a 52-3 win, with the other Test between the sides proving just as lopsided as Wales were swept aside 54-9. This was the only time that Kirwan picked up a quartet of tries in a Test and also the only time that he bagged more than two.
Mike Catt may well still bear psychological (and, let's face it, physical) scars of his meeting with Jonah Lomu at Newlands in the semi-final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks winger had announced himself throughout the tournament as the face of rugby, with his blend of pace and power taking the game by storm. Against England he was unplayable and ran four tries in, one famously straight over the top of a prone Catt. The final went less well for the big man as the Springboks marked him out of the game, but boy did he make an impact on the World Cup as a whole.
Bryan Habana emerged from the 2007 Rugby World Cup with a winner's medal, the honour of being the tournament's top scorer and the knowledge that he was the star of world rugby's biggest show. The Springbok winger bagged eight tries during the tournament and did the majority of the damage in their opening game against Samoa at the Parc des Princes, when he crossed four times in a routine 59-7 victory. His later tournament scores came in the form of braces against the USA and Argentina, although he was shown up against the Americans as Biarritz winger Takudzwa Ngwenya smoked him for pace and a famous try.
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