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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
The All Blacks' Test points record, the South African Gazelles and the Six Nations fixture list
John Griffiths
July 19, 2010

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 the All Blacks' Test points record, the South African Gazelles, bleep tests and the Six Nations fixture list.

During their Tri-Nations Test against South Africa in Wellington at the weekend it was reported that New Zealand had become the top-scoring nation for points in Test rugby. Who held the previous record? Anon, South Africa

The All Blacks took their total of points to 11,817 with their 31-17 defeat of the Springboks on Saturday, overtaking the record previously held by France.

According to most statisticians France had scored 11,792 points from 660 Tests played since 1906. Purists, however, argue that France's total should be 11,790 on account of the fact that the official FFR record of their Olympic match against Romania at Stade Colombes, Paris in 1924 gives the final score as 59-3, while the official Olympic record and the reports given in the newspapers of the day attributed an additional conversion to the French, making the score 61-3.

Either way, it's true to say that New Zealand wrested the record from the French in their win in Wellington. Moreover, they reached the record in only 463 Tests - nearly two hundred games fewer than the French.

I am interested in the history of the Junior Springboks and Gazelle teams, during the years 1949 to 1981. I know that these teams played against the Australians (1953, 1969), British and Irish Lions (1955, 1962, 1968, 1974, 1980), French (1967), New Zealand (1949, 1960, 1970, 1976) and Ireland (1981) touring sides. If possible, please supply the match details as well as the two matches played by the Gazelles against Argentina during 1972. Philip McLachlan, South Africa

The Junior Springboks (basically a South Africa 'A' team) made their "Test" bow in 1932 on a tour of Argentina, winning the two "Tests" against the Pumas in Buenos Aires, 42-0 and 34-3. To distinguish them from "full" Springboks, the side of uncapped players wore blue shirts emblazoned with springbok head, red stockings and white shorts. They won all eight of their tour matches.

They did not meet the 1949 All Black tourists, but the players who came close to representing the full Springboks in their 4-0 whitewash of the New Zealanders that season were sent on the Junior Springbok tour of Rhodesia the following year. The side was led by Eric Norton of Eastern Province and included such well-known future players as "Chum" Ochse, Ernst Dinkelmann and Stephen Fry, who each went on to win full Springbok Test colours on the 1951-52 tour to Britain, Ireland and France.

The Junior Springboks did not meet the 1953 Wallabies, their first home match against a Test touring side occurring in 1955 against the British & Irish Lions. The match was played in Bloemfontein on September 14 - midway between the Lions' third and fourth Tests - and resulted in a narrow 15-12 win for the tourists. The Junior 'Boks had warmed up for the match by undertaking a six-match internal tour playing the top South African provincial sides.

Vivian Jenkins, who covered the Lions tour for the London Sunday Times, felt the match was akin to a fifth Test for the tourists and suggested that it should be dropped from future itineraries, arguing: "It is unfair to the visitors to ask them to take on such a stiff fixture on top of their other commitments."

Indeed, the Juniors did not meet every major tour side between 1949 and 1981. The relevant Junior Springboks (re-branded as the Gazelles from the mid-1960s) details are:

1955 - British & Irish Lions, Bloemfontein, Lost 12-15
1958 - France, Port Elizabeth, Won 9-5
1960 - New Zealand, Durban , Lost 6-20
1962 - British & Irish Lions, Pretoria, Lost 11-16
1963 - Australia, Springs, Won 12-5
1969 - Australia, Springs, Lost 17-27
1970 - New Zealand, Potchefstroom, Lost 25-29
1976 - New Zealand, Port Elizabeth, Lost 15-21
1980 - South American Jaguars, Pretoria, Lost 19-30
1980 - British & Irish Lions*, Johannesburg, Lost 6-17
1981 - Ireland , Pretoria, Won 18-15

* For the 1980 match against Bill Beaumont's Lions the team's official title reverted to Junior Springboks.

Argentina undertook non-Test tours of South Africa in 1965 and 1971, the Junior Springboks returned to Argentina in 1959, and the Gazelles toured Argentina in 1966 and 1972. The results of the matches played between the sides in those years were as follows:

1959 - Argentina 6-14 Junior Springboks, Buenos Aires
1959 - Argentina 6-20 Junior Springboks, Buenos Aires
1965 - Junior Springboks 6-11 Argentina, Johannesburg
1966 - Argentina 3-9 Gazelles, Buenos Aires
1966 - Argentina 15-20 Gazelles, Buenos Aires
1971 - Gazelles 12-6 Argentina, Port Elizabeth
1971 - Gazelles 0-12 Argentina, Pretoria
1972 - Argentina 6-14 Gazelles, Buenos Aires
1972 - Argentina 18-16 Gazelles Buenos Aires

In the standard "bleep" test to determine fitness levels in rugby union, there are different levels for different positions, can you tell me what they are? Harry Corrigan, England

Sir Ian McGeechan used to advise that players should be reminded that the bleep test is of use as a benchmark if they stretch themselves to their maximum level each time. Reasonable bleep-test targets are:

For the front five: 11.0 to 12.0
For the back-row & scrum-half 13.5 to 14.5
For the Back three and midfield backs 12.5 to 13.5

How is the Six Nations fixture calendar decided? Meurig Hughes, Wales

Since 2004-05, the Six Nations Committee has considered the schedule annually as part of its "adapt and change" policy. The committee draws up the fixture list for each season about eight or nine months before the competition begins.

Television deals, especially with the BBC (who account for considerably more than half the broadcasting revenue), are an important consideration in the committee's fixture-arranging. The BBC request three Sunday matches, two late Saturday kick-offs and, since last season, a Friday-night fixture. The 2010-11 schedule will begin with Wales hosting England in Cardiff on Friday February 4.

It's all a far cry from the old days. For most of the first 70 or so years of the 20th century the Home Unions met each other on fixed Saturdays: Wales/England (third in January); Wales/Scotland (first in February); England/Ireland (second in February); Ireland/Scotland (fourth in February); Wales/Ireland (second or occasionally third in March), culminating in the Calcutta Cup match (third Saturday in March). Indeed, it was the Scottish Rugby Union's dogged refusal to alter the date of their match with England that for many years proved a stumbling block to change.

When France were accommodated, Paris matches were arranged for public holidays (New Year's Day and Easter Monday) before, from 1949, France became part of the fixed Saturday routine with games against Scotland (second Saturday in January), Ireland (fourth in January or sometimes early April); England (fourth in February clashing with the Ireland/Scotland date) and Wales (fourth or last Saturday of March). Occasional variations to the old Five Nations schedule were made when major tour sides were visiting.

As early as 1953 calls were made by Wales for the International Championship's fixtures to follow a rota - i.e. ensure that no two countries would meet each other on the same Saturday two years running. Then, when the biennial Wales-England clash at Cardiff in mid-January suffered such appalling weather conditions between 1955 and 1965 - driving rain, frost, mud as the consequence of the River Taff flooding, and Arctic weather in 1963 - England and Wales agreed to break with tradition and experimented with their fixture in April. The upshot was two outstanding spectacles played in perfect conditions in 1967 and 1969.

The die were cast and in the late 1960s the Home Unions and France finally agreed that from 1974 (after the Scots had celebrated their centenary) the Five Nations would be limited to five Saturdays a year and that two matches would be staged each Saturday. The games were played - weather permitting - on the third Saturday of January, and the first and third Saturdays of both February and March.

In the days before 1974 all club games were friendlies and many clubs had cherished longstanding arrangements to play cross-border games on appropriate international weekends. To give the clubs plenty of notice for making future arrangements, the new rotation of fixtures was agreed ten years in advance.

With five nations, the mathematics of the tournament permitted a neat symmetry of fixtures: each nation played twice at home and twice away (alternating between home/away fixtures during a Championship season) and each country enjoyed a weekend on the sidelines.

There were early objections to the new system. 1974 was a Lions year and their selectors were thus unable to see all of the matches live, owing to the double-header clashes. No matter. The Lions of 1974 (to South Africa) went into history as the most successful British & Irish side of modern times.

The rota clicked back by two units each year so that the third Saturday's games of 1974 became the opening Saturday's games for 1975, but with home advantage changing. The pattern (though occasionally disrupted by poor weather) took ten seasons to complete its cycle and became so well accepted that there was no hesitation in repeating the rota exactly for the 1984-1993 and 1994 to 2003 cycles, by which time the Italians had joined the Championship. Their fixtures were arranged with the nation that would otherwise have been on the sidelines, but the home/away alternation was no longer mathematically possible

The 2004 Six Nations saw the Home Unions and France revert to the 1974 rota, but since then the Six Nations committee has scrapped the rota, preferring to make arrangements at shorter notice with an eye on their TV contractual obligations.

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