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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
Rugby World Cup-winning coaches, young Grand Slam skippers and Leinster's unbeaten run
John Griffiths
April 9, 2012

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 Rugby World Cup-winning coaches, young Grand Slam skippers, England coaching records and Leinster's unbeaten run.

Has any nation won the Rugby World Cup with a foreign coach? Malcolm Scotch, Australia

Not yet. All seven Rugby World Cup-winners to date were coached by home-grown talent:

1987 - New Zealand - Brian Lochore
1991 - Australia - Bob Dwyer
1995 - South Africa - Kitch Christie
1999 - Australia - Rod Macqueen
2003 - England - Clive Woodward
2007 - South Africa - Jake White
2011 - New Zealand - Graham Henry

Only Lochore and Woodward had actually been capped as players by their countries before turning to coaching.

Is Sam Warburton the youngest Grand Slam skipper of all time? John Stephens, Wales

The 23-year-old was certainly the youngest Welshman to lead his country to a Grand Slam, beating Michael Owen's record (who was 24 in 2005).

The youngest Grand Slam-winning captain was Ireland's Karl Mullen in 1948. He was only 21 and like Warburton did not lead his side in every match. Ireland opened their golden season with a 13-6 win at Stade Colombes, Paris on New Year's Day. For that match their nominated skipper was scrum-half Ernie Strathdee, who had taken on the captaincy earlier in the season for a match against the Wallabies.

At the end of January the Irish Probables - virtually the side that had beaten the French - beat the Possibles 18-3, but the selectors made a few changes for the trip to Twickenham to face England in mid-February. Strathdee lost his place to Hugh de Lacy and Mullen took on the captaincy. They won 11-10 at Twickenham, beat Scotland 6-0 in Dublin and secured the Grand Slam with a 6-3 win against Wales in Belfast. Mullen led in the three games, despite the recall of Strathdee for the Wales match.

The previous record-holder was Phil Macpherson. He was also 21, but slightly older than Mullen when he led Scotland to their first Grand Slam with a 14-11 win against England in March 1925 - Murrayfield's first-ever international match. He had captained them to a 25-4 win against France at Inverleith in January and to a resounding 24-14 win against Wales at St Helen's Ground in Swansea in early February. For the match against Ireland he had to stand down owing to injury and the captaincy passed to Dan Drysdale, Scotland winning 14-8 in Dublin, before Macpherson returned for the Murrayfield victory.

Which was the first British & Irish Lions team to fly to its tour destination? John Anderson, Scotland

The first dozen tours to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, from 1888 to 1950, went by sea. The first to fly to their destination were the 1955 tourists to South Africa.

The class of '55, led by Ireland's Robin Thompson, assembled at Eastbourne but not without difficulty. A railway strike disrupted the travel arrangements of some of the Scottish contingent and Ernie Michie, the lock forward from Aberdeen, was a day late arriving, complete with the bagpipes that were to accompany him throughout South Africa. The party left Eastbourne on June 9th and after a few hours' delay flew out to South Africa the next day from London - the first British & Irish team to travel by air.

The first Lion to fly out for a tour, however, was the Wales fullback Lewis Jones in 1950. He was called out to New Zealand after George Norton, the Irish fullback, broke his arm playing against Southland in the fifth match of the tour. Although the main party had travelled Down Under by sea, special arrangements were made to get Jones out relatively swiftly. He flew out from England on June 14, arrived in Auckland on June 18 and made his Lions debut at fullback against Poverty Bay/East Coast/Bay of Plenty in the mid-week match on June 21.

I recently read something suggesting that Leinster's unbeaten run this season is the best by any top rugby side since the game went professional. Is this true and what other sides have completed similar runs? Barry, Ireland

After losing 23-19 to Glasgow Warriors at the RDS on September 17, Leinster went on a 20-match unbeaten run to establish a record for the professional era at the game's highest level.

Leinster achieved their winning streak despite losing several of their top-flight players to Rugby World Cup duties (September and October) and Six Nations squad calls (February and March). The run ended where it had begun, at the RDS on March 23, when Ospreys beat them 23-22.

The full details of the run were:

Sept 24 - W 15-10 v Scarlets (A), RaboDirect
Oct 1 - W 26-7 v Aironi (H), RaboDirect
Oct 8 - W 30-20 v Connacht (H), RaboDirect
Oct 28 - W 36-28 v Edinburgh (A), RaboDirect
Nov 4 - W 24-19 v Munster (H), RaboDirect
Nov 12 - D 16-16 v Montpellier (A), Heineken Cup
Nov 20 - W 38-13 v Glasgow Warriors(H), Heineken Cup
Nov 26 - W 30-20 v Benetton Treviso (A), RaboDirect
Dec 2 - W 52-9 v Cardiff Blues (H), RaboDirect
Dec 11 - W 18-13 v Bath (A), Heineken Cup
Dec 17 - W 52-27 v Bath (H), Heineken Cup
Dec 26 - W 42-13 v Ulster (H), RaboDirect
Jan 1 - W 15-13 v Connacht (A), RaboDirect
Jan 7 - W 23-19 v Cardiff Blues (A), RaboDirect
Jan 15 - W 23-16 v Glasgow Warriors (A), Heineken Cup
Jan 21 - W 25-3 v Montpellier (H), Heineken Cup
Feb 9 - W 42-8 v Benetton Treviso (H), RaboDirect
Feb 17 - W 16-13 v Scarlets (H), RaboDirect
Feb 25 - D 10-10 v Glasgow Warriors (A), RaboDirect
Mar 2 - W 22-6 v Aironi (A), RaboDirect

The best run of the professional era in Super Rugby is 17 unbeaten games by the Crusaders between 2005 and 2006. Their run was ended by the Blues in Auckland in the opening round of 2007, when the Crusaders' All Blacks were rested ahead of the Rugby World Cup. In the early days of the professional era the Auckland Blues had an unbeaten Super Rugby run of 16 games (1996-97).

Stuart Lancaster won four of his first five Tests in charge of England. How does he compare with his predecessors? Jonathan T, England

No-one has a better starting record than the new England head coach. Two others, Mike Davis and Jack Rowell, also enjoyed four wins in their first five games at the helm.

The opening records of Lancaster's predecessors were as follows:

Don White - 1969-70: WWLLL
John Elders - 1972: LLLLW
John Burgess - 1975: LLLWL
Peter Colston - 1976: WLLLL
Mike Davis - 1979-80: LWWWW
Dick Greenwood - 1983: LDLLW
Martin Green - 1985-86: LLWLW
Geoff Cooke - 1988: LLWWW
Jack Rowell - 1994: WLWWW
Clive Woodward - 1997: DLLDL
Andy Robinson - 2004-05: WWLLL
Brian Ashton - 2007: WWLWL
Rob Andrew - 2008: LL
Martin Johnson - 2008-09: WLLLW
Stuart Lancaster - 2012: WWLWW

The only one who failed to win any of his first five matches was Clive Woodward.

* Dick Best held the title "coach" from 1992 to 1994 under first Geoff Cooke and (briefly) under Jack Rowell, but was not in charge of the side. Best's record with England started with seven straight wins and when his stinted ended early in Jack Rowell's reign he had lost only four times in 17 Tests.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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