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John Griffiths | Columnist Index
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
Postponed Championship matches, father and son England players and the career of Squire Wilkins
John Griffiths
February 13, 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 Griffiths answers questions on postponed Championship matches, father and son England internationals and the career of Squire Wilkins.

I know the foot and mouth epidemic caused disruption to fixtures, but which was the last Six Nations game to be called off due to snow or ice? Geat, United Kingdom

Since the Six Nations was launched in 2000, the weather had never interfered with planned fixtures until the France-Ireland clash was postponed 10 minutes before kick-off on Saturday night.

In more recent times the start of the tournament has been put back to the first weekend of February, usually avoiding the January freezes that had occasionally disrupted matters in the past.

The last time a Championship match was postponed owing to a freeze was in January 1987. England and Wales were due to host Scotland and Ireland respectively on January 17. The authorities at Twickenham and Cardiff took the decision to rearrange the matches for early April three days before they were due to take place.

Although both pitches were perfectly playable, the decision was reached because travel was particularly hazardous in the north of England, in Ireland and in Scotland. Spectators (and travelling teams) were consequently spared unnecessary worries.

That was the third time during the 1980s that ice and snow had caused January postponements to Five Nations matches. Heavy snow in 1982 meant the Ireland-Wales game at Lansdowne Road was postponed for a week and in 1985 the opening weekend was hit, causing the Ireland-England and France-Wales matches to be put back to late March. That year also saw the Wales-England game (scheduled for February) hit by the weather, the match eventually taking place in late April when a young Jonathan Davies made his Wales debut.

The only other time since World War Two that a Twickenham Five Nations match had to be postponed owing to snow was in the big freeze of 1947. The game was scheduled for the last weekend of February but was eventually played in mid-April. The 1952 England-Ireland match at Twickenham was postponed from early February until late March because of the death of HM King George VI.

The Arctic winter of 1963 saw countless club and county matches postponed and cancelled, but miraculously every Five Nations international went ahead as scheduled. The Murrayfield electric blanket had to work overtime in February to ensure that Scotland's matches with Wales and Ireland beat the weather.

France and Ireland went ahead on a bone-hard pitch in Paris in 1978 when the referee, players and officials in the visiting Irish party did not want to play. In those days the decision regarding staging of the match was in the hands of the "visited Union" and the FFR insisted that the match took place. It was a miracle that no-one was seriously injured in a game France won 10-9.

The foot-and-mouth epidemic disrupted the 2001 Six Nations, causing Ireland's matches with Scotland, Wales and England to be postponed until September and October of the 2001-02 season.

That was only the second time that International Championship fixtures had to be postponed to the next season. In 1962, during the former Five Nations tournament, a smallpox epidemic in South Wales led to the rearrangement of Wales' visit to Dublin. The match, originally scheduled for March 10, was provisionally put back to April 28, but at length it was not played until November 17. The famous Irish fullback, Tom Kiernan, had uniquely been selected to play at centre for the original fixture. By the time the game was eventually played he occupied his normal position.

The only times that Five Nations matches were cancelled were in 1914 and 1972. France and Scotland did not meet in 1914 owing to a riot in Paris the year before which caused relations between the two Unions to become fraught. In 1972, the political situation in Ireland led to Scotland and Wales cancelling their visits to Dublin.

How many Harlequins have led England in Tests? Graham, England

Chris Robshaw became the 14th England skipper nominated direct from the Harlequins club earlier this year.

His predecessors were John Birkett, Will Carling, "Lump" Cartwright, Peter Dixon, Nick Easter, "Jenny" Greenwood, "Curly" Hammond, Bob Hiller, Jason Leonard, Adrian Stoop, Wavell Wakefield, Bob Weighill and John Willcox.

Six other well-known Quins led England whilst playing for other clubs: Joe Mycock (while at Sale), David Perry (Bedford), Ronald Poulton (later Poulton-Palmer - Liverpool), Vic Roberts (Penryn), Keith Scott (Redruth) and "Drewy" Stoddart (Blackheath).

Wavell (later Lord) Wakefield was a Leicester player when he first led England (to the Grand Slam in 1924). He was with Harlequins when he captained the England sides in 1925 and 1926.

I am researching my family history and wondered if you had any information on a relative named Dennis Thomas Wilkins, who played rugby for England? P J Wilkins, UK

Dennis Thomas "Squire" Wilkins was born in Leeds on Boxing Day, 1924. He played soccer at school before taking up rugby seriously during his service days. He volunteered as a teenager in 1943, served in the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot during the World War Two and remained in the Navy until 1958 (captaining their rugby teams in 1952-3 and in his last year in the service).

He was a Roundhay player at club level but it was his efforts for the Combined Services and the Royal Navy that earned him promotion to England's second-row in 1951. He was ever-present in the England Five Nations sides of 1951, 1952 and 1953 and was an outstanding member of the pack that gave South Africa a run for their money at Twickenham in January 1952. All told he won 13 caps.

He also played for the Barbarians and for Yorkshire in the County Championship (captaining the county in 1952-53). After leaving the Royal Navy he worked in marketing with Kimberly Clark Ltd, rising to marketing director. He died on January 30, aged 87.

How many father/son combinations have been capped by England and which family has the shortest generation gap between appearances? Chris, England

The Farrells became the 12th family in which father and son(s) have played Test rugby union for England:

R H Birkett (1871 - 1877) and son J G G (1906 - 1912)
W H Milton (1874 - 1875) and sons C H (1906) and J G (1904 - 1907)
H J Wilkinson (1889) and son H (1929 - 1930)
G C Hubbard (1892) and son J C (1930)
W E Tucker (1894 - 1895) and son W E (1926 - 1930)
R F A Hobbs (1899 - 1903) and son R G S (1932)
H T F Weston (1903) and son W H (1933 - 1938)
F S Scott (1907) and son E K (1947-1948)
I Preece (1948-1951) and son P S (1972 - 1976)
J R H Greenwood (1966-1969) and son W J H (1997-2004)
N G Youngs (1983-1984) and son B R (2010 to date)
A D Farrell (2007) and son O A (2012 to date)

The Farrells, it will be seen from the years set out above, have the shortest generation gap (five years) between debuts.

When Bradley Davies was sin-binned against Ireland there seemed to be not much more than 10 minutes left on the match clock, yet he was back on with several minutes remaining. Is the rule, 10 minutes ignoring stoppages or 10 minutes of match time, as I believe it should be? Tony Phillips, England

Nowadays there is a match clock that measures playing time and it is regularly stopped and started by the Television Match Official (TMO) at the referee's instruction. The 10-minute spell for the yellow card would have been timed by the match clock and not by the actual time elapsed since the player's temporary dismissal.

The carded player needs permission from the referee and pitch-side officials during a break in play before his return is allowed - the player may not return immediately the ten minutes of playing time have elapsed if, at that instant, the ball is in play.

Bradley Davies officially received the card at 64:53. He was technically allowed back when the match clock showed 74:53, but at that moment the game was live. The next stoppage came after George North's try at 75:46, referee Wayne Barnes calling time-off to TMO Geoff Warren at 75:54 to review whether or not North had scored. Leigh Halfpenny failed with the conversion attempt and the game restarted with Ronan O'Gara kicking-off at 76:50, at which time Davies was back in action.

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