Wilko set to reclaim all-time Test points record
February 25, 2011
England's Jonny Wilkinson is poised to reclaim the all-time Test points record this weekend © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson will add a fresh distinction to an already long list on Saturday, provided that he scores two points against France in the Six Nations international at Twickenham.
On top of the immortal moment in Sydney, the OBE and what is doubtless a very high credit rating, he will become the first player ever to regain the title of all-time highest points scorer in international rugby.
It is a title that Jonny took from Neil Jenkins, the holder since 1999, when he kicked the first of his three penalties for England against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2008, taking his career total to 1093. He lost it at the end of last year when Daniel Carter took his total to 1188 points with three conversions and two penalties against Wales. But Carter has not played since, while Jonny's cameo roles in the last quarter of England's two matches so far have enabled him to claim 9 of the 10 points by which Carter led him - a penalty against Wales and three conversions against Italy.
It makes both members of a distinguished succession dating back to the early days of rugby. It is a select grouping, but incorporates players from every major rugby nation except South Africa. There are two brothers, and a forward. Just under 100 years ago, at the end of February 1912, the record was shared by no fewer than four players - all from the same country.
Quite where it starts is, though, tricky. Rugby did not introduce points scoring until the late 1880s. Technically the man at the top of the list should be Harry Bedford of Morley who scored the first two tries - then worth a point apiece - in the first international decided on points, the England v New Zealand Natives match in 1889. His eminence did not even last until the end of the match as his fellow Yorkshireman, winger John Sutcliffe from the Heckmondwike club, scored England's last try and then converted it, taking his tally to three points. Sutcliffe did not play for England again - at least at rugby. Switching to football when his club was accused of professionalism, he joined Bolton Wanderers and won five England caps as a goalkeeper.
Sad though it is to deprive this intriguingly versatile figure of his niche, it would, though, have been ridiculous to consider either Bedford or Sutcliffe the leading scorer in Test rugby. Among the crowd watching them at Blackheath will have been Lennard Stokes, who had retired from international rugby with a personal tally of 17 conversions and two drop-goals for England - equivalent to 40 points under the system in operation in 1889 and 42 by the time scoring had settled down to a stable, agreed basis by the mid 1890s. Stokes was outstandingly the most prolific scorer of the very early days, so is essentially the first of our line.
His total was finally overtaken in 1899 by Jack Bancroft, the first great Welsh fullback, a mercurial figure arguably predestined by birth to a sporting career, since he was born at the St Helen's ground, Swansea, in the groundsman's house then occupied by his grandfather. Bancroft reached 43 points with a drop-goal against Scotland in 1899, his 26th cap - leaving him only three short of the then all-time record held by the Scot Bill McLaglen .
Bancroft duly went past McLaglen to finish on 33 caps from a career lasting from 1890 to 1901 and a final tally of 60 points, the first man of two to hold both the caps and the points record. He was to lose both records to Swansea club-mates. Scrum-half Dickie Owen was his successor as most-capped. The process by which he lost the points record was to be more complicated.
It was equalled for the first time by Wales wing Willie Llewellyn. Where all Bancroft's points came from kicks, all of Llewellyn's were tries - 20 of them by the time he retired in 1905. Then came the versatile Reggie Gibbs of Cardiff, who also reached 60 points by 1911, but did not score another point in international rugby.
By February 1912 a fourth man had reached 60 points - yet another Welshman, a reflection of the extent to which Wales dominated the game in the early years of the twentieth century, and did so by high-scoring, an era when almost all international rugby was still played in Britain. At this point Wales provided not only the quartet at the top, but 9 of the top 11 in all.
Number four was the man who finally broke the points barrier, Jack Bancroft. A spectator remarking on the extraordinary defensive performance by a fullback he described as 'the great Bancroft' in the 1912 England v Wales match was firmly told that it was 'Not the great Bancroft, but his little brother'. History would probably accept that verdict, but in one respect Jack exceeded Bill - running up a total of 88 international points, aided by some high-scoring days against weak early French teams - in 18 matches for Wales.
And there the record stayed until 1930 when it was taken by the second man also to hold the caps record. George Stephenson, a fixture at centre for Ireland during the 1920s, took both records against France in 1928, scoring his 14th and last try to take his points tally to 89, where it would stay, on the day that he overtook Owen by winning his 36th cap.
Stephenson proved to be typically durable as a record holder, both marks surviving until well after the Second World War. Who took his points mark is not in question - Jean Prat of France, sole forward in this sequence, presiding deity of Lourdes' period of French club hegemony and a great dropper of goals. The problem is that France awarded caps where other nations did not. If you count everything, he went past Stephenson with a conversion and two penalties against Italy in Milan in 1952. If you exclude the points scored against Italy, Argentina and in postwar 'Victory' internationals, as everybody else did, then Prat squeezed past Stephenson with his final points in Test rugby, two drop goals - taking his tally to 90 - in France's victory at Twickenham in 1955.
Further doubt concerns who is next. If you are French, it is that elegant fullback Michel Vannier, who went past Prat's all-international total of 139 points in 1960 and concluded a year later with 180. But 122 of those points were scored against Argentina, Italy and Romania, not yet recognised as cap opponents by other countries.
To discount Vannier is to get a still stronger sense of the impact of the next unquestioned name on the list. It took international rugby the best part of a century to produce a player who could score 100 points. Don 'The Boot' Clarke, the giant All Black fullback, not only went past that mark but over 200 before anyone else - anomalous Frenchmen apart - was even into three figures, reaching 207 in 31 matches before he retired in 1964.
That record, too, stood a fair while before falling to yet another player scoring his final international points. And no record has been claimed in a grander manner than by Phil Bennett scoring the second of his two tries in a devastating burst of Welsh attacking play in the Grand Slam decider against France in 1978 that had veteran commentator Pierre Albaladejo acclaiming ' surely the greatest rugby ever played'.
That took Bennett to 210, making him the first outside-half to hold the record. His stay at the top was comparatively short-lived as Andy Irvine reclaimed it for fullbacks, and added a Scot to the list of table-toppers, in 1981 - going on to squeeze past 300 points with his final points against Australia in 1982.
Since then it has been outside-halves all the way. First in line was the great Argentinian Hugo Porta. Exactly when he overtook Irvine's 301 is a matter of definition, depending on how you regard his 228 points against 'minor' nations or the 50 he scored teams classified as 'XVs' by major countries who still did not award caps against Argentina. But even if you exclude all of those, while including the points scored against Italy and Fiji in the 1987 World Cup, Porta's career total was close to 400 points.
Then, with higher scoring, more matches and the general move towards awarding caps for matches against all national teams, comes the great leap forward to totals of the sort necessary to be a world leader nowadays. Michael Lynagh made his debut for Australia in 1984 and by the time he played his 72nd and last match in 1995 had scored 911 points. That mark stood until Neil Jenkins, the fourth Welshman to hold the record outright, overtook it in 1999, going on to leave the mark of 1090 in 91 matches that Jonny in turn went past in 2008.
Who knows to what heights he might have raised the record, but for injuries. He has played only 30 of England's 81 matches since the 2003 World Cup. Even at the slightly lower scoring rate resulting from England's poorer performances and his own reduction to the bench, he might have added another 400-500 points.
Instead the odds are that Carter The Unstoppable Points Machine, three years younger and a certain starter in the team that gives its players more chances to score than any other, will soon emulate Jonny by reclaiming the record from him. Where he might eventually leave it, is anybody's guess.
The all-time Test points record holder - line of succession:
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape
Move over, Castro - from falling off a chair to stepping off the team bus, Scrum Sevens recounts some of the strangest rugby injuries ever
Martin Gillingham on the latest from France and why the national side can learn a thing or two from Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles