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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
Lions captains, Munster's Lions contribution and record Test crowds
John Griffiths
April 27, 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 his latest lesson for us all, John reveals which country has provided the most Lions captains, which teams have provides the most Lions tourists on any given tour and the world record attendance for a Test match.

Q. Which Home Union has provided the most captains for major tours undertaken by the British & Irish Lions? Anon

A. Ireland. Paul O'Connell is the tenth Irish leader of the Lions on a major tour. His predecessors were:

1910 - Tom Smyth to SA Series lost
1938 - Sammy Walker to SA Series lost
1950 - Karl Mullen to NZ/Aust Series lost in NZ; won in Australia
1955 - Robin Thompson to SA Series drawn
1959 - Ronnie Dawson to Aust/NZ Series won in Australia; lost in NZ
1968 - Tom Kiernan to SA Series lost
1974 - Willie-John McBride to SA Series won
1983 - Ciaran Fitzgerald to NZ Series lost
2005 - Brian O'Driscoll to NZ Series lost

Eight of the 28 major tours to the Tri-Nations countries (including this year's) since 1888 have been led by Englishmen, seven by Scotsmen and three (including the 1908 Anglo-Welsh party when Scotland and Ireland refused to participate) by Welshmen. England's Martin Johnson is the only player who has led two Lions tour parties while Wales's John Dawes uniquely led a Grand Slam side and a series-winning Lions team in the same year (1971).

Q. There were eight Munster players in the Lions squad originally chosen for this year's tour. Is that a record for a fully representative tour? Anon

A. Leicester also provided eight among the cast of thousands for the 2005 tour to New Zealand:
Neil Back
Martin Corry
Ben Kay
Lewis Moody
Geordan Murphy
Graham Rowntree
Ollie Smith
Julian White

The injury to Tomas O'Leary is likely to reduce Munster's starting contribution to seven, the same as the number of Newport players in the 1910 squad in South Africa. There were also seven from London Welsh, including replacement Geoff Evans, in Australia and New Zealand with the successful 1971 Lions.

The 1910 Lions to South Africa were the first fully representative squad to leave the Home Unions. Before that, Cambridge University provided eleven of the 1891 party to South Africa - the first side to tour there. That squad had no Welsh or Irish representatives.

What is the record attendance for a Test match? Anon

A. The official record is 109,874 at Stadium Australia in 2000 for the Australia 35-39 New Zealand Tri-Nations clash. The same ground held 107,042 for another Wallabies-All Blacks Tri-Nations game when it was opened in 1999. The complex was built for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

The record attendance for an International Championship match was officially given as 104,000 for the Scotland 12-10 Wales game at Murrayfield on St David's Day 1975. The "unofficial" crowd figure was 111,000, many thousands gaining free admission when a perimeter fence gave way.

There were 95,000 present to set a then record when South Africa played the British & Irish Lions at Ellis Park, Johannesburg in the opening Test of the 1955 series and, according to the French sports newspaper L'Equipe, the same number attended the Romania-France match at the August 23rd Stadium, Bucharest, in 1957. That crowd had assembled for a major soccer match and stayed on to cheer the Romanian rugby side to a near victory over the French, who eventually won 18-15 through a late penalty goal.

The world record for the fewest spectators at a major Test is 30: United States v South Africa 1981 at Owl Creek Polo Field, Glenville, New York. The match venue was kept a secret to avoid unwanted apartheid demonstrators. The teams, allegedly, had to clear the polo field of horse manure before the rugby match could be staged.

When were the first Test matches televised live in Australia and New Zealand? Anon

A. Australia led the way in the southern hemisphere. The first Test broadcast live Down Under was on May 25, 1957 when Colin Meads and Wilson Whineray made their New Zealand Test debuts against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The All Blacks, giving one of the best exhibitions of rugby seen in Sydney for many years, won the Test 25-11 in front of 28,150 spectators. At least twice as many were estimated to have seen the game on one of the three Sydney television channels that transmitted it live.

They did not, however, see the Bledisloe Cup for which the two nations compete. It had been on display in Sydney during the lead-up to the match but was temporarily mislaid during the day of the Test.

It was not until the Bledisloe Cup series of 1972 that a New Zealand home Test went live to armchair viewers. The All Blacks were already 2-0 ahead in the series when the New Zealand Rugby Union agreed a fee of NZ$8,750 with the NZBC network for the final Test in Auckland to be broadcast live on television on September 16.

There were concerns that live television coverage would detract from the gate, but it was reported that officials were pleased with the attendance (43,000) for the Test. Jack Sullivan, chairman of the NZRFU, announced that the crowd was a record for a NZ-Australia Test on New Zealand soil and that the gate was nearly NZ$73,000. Even so, only 1,750 were present in Christchurch the same afternoon for West Coast's unsuccessful Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury.

When was the last time France failed to provide a semi-finalist for the Heineken European Cup? Anon

A. Cardiff Blues' 9-6 quarter-final win against Toulouse eliminated the last of this season's surviving French clubs. Only once before have the French failed to provide a Heineken Cup semi-finalist: that was in 2007 when Biarritz and Stade Français were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Leicester beat Llanelli and Wasps beat Northampton in that year's semis before Wasps went on to lift the Cup, beating Leicester 25-9 in the Final at Twickenham.

Q. Could you perhaps tell me whether a player by the name of R Mattei played scrum-half for Italy in their matches against a French XV and the USSR in 1978 or did G Franceschini play scrum-half in those matches? Jer McLachlan, South Africa

A. The Federazione Italiana Rugby records show that Gianni Franceschini was the scrum-half in these matches. He was with the Treviso club when he played in the 31-9 defeat by France B in L'Aquila on February 4, 1978 but had transferred to San Donà the following season when he won the last of his Italian caps in the 11-9 defeat by the USSR in Rome (November 18, 1978).

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