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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
Starting blocks and Olympics
John Griffiths
August 15, 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 looks at a unique All Blacks skipper, Currie Cup top scorers, the rugby player who devised the modern day starting blocks, London Welsh's match against Ponsonby back in 1974 and the 1908 Olympic Final.

Who was the only captain of a team that beat the All Blacks before he captained the All Blacks? Paul Edgar, New Zealand

This is one of the most intriguing questions submitted to this column and, to the best of knowledge, is a fact that has not been widely publicised in New Zealand. The answer is Jim Tilyard who led Wellington to victory against New Zealand in 1914 and was New Zealand's skipper on their tour of Australia in 1920.

The All Blacks visited Australia in July/August 1914 with James Ryan, Teddy Roberts and Arthur ("Ranji") Wilson among the Wellington representatives in the tour party. Both Ryan and Wilson captained their province during the season.

New Zealand, led by Ryan and including Roberts and Wilson, played against Wellington on 1st July 1914 before sailing for Australia and were defeated 19-14 by a side led by the 24-year-old Tilyard. Six years later, the first official All Blacks team to assemble after the Great War was led by Tilyard. They, too, visited Australia with a home game at the start of the tour against Auckland and another, at the end, against Wellington.

Tilyard was a versatile player capable of playing scrum-half, first- and second five-eighth and centre. All told he played ten matches (including one Test) for New Zealand and was captain in his nine non-Test appearances. One of his brothers was an All Black, another played for Wellington and his nephew, Jack Griffiths, was a well-known All Black five-eighth in the 1930s.

Cliff Porter, the famous wing-forward who stood off the 2-3-2 New Zealand scrum formation in the 1920s, actually captained New Zealand, then captained a side that defeated the All Blacks before leading the national side again in the latter part of the decade.

All told he skippered New Zealand 37 times between 1924 and 1930 including the famous Invincibles who won every match of their tour to Europe and North America in 1924-25. After returning from that visit he led his province, Wellington, to a 10-6 win against Jim Donald's All Blacks on the eve of their tour to Australia in 1925 (for which Porter and members of his Invincibles were not considered for selection). Porter captained New Zealand again before standing down after his side won their series with Doug Prentice's British & Irish Lions in 1930.

The greatest All Black of all time, Colin Meads, achieved the captaincy feat in reverse. He first led New Zealand in the field in 1960, stood down as an All Black after leading them in the 1971 series against John Dawes's Lions, but ended his first-class career with a couple of games as captain of sides against the All Blacks in New Zealand in August 1973. In the first of those he had the distinction of leading the NZRFU President's XV to a 35-28 win over the All Blacks in Wellington.

Who are all-time highest points and try scorers of South Africa's Currie Cup? George Yi, Canada

The five leading points scorers (up to the start of this season's tournament) are:

Naas Botha - 1699
Willem de Waal - 1433
Eric Herbert - 1402
De Wet Ras - 1210
André Joubert - 1165

The five leading try scorers (up to the start of this season's tournament) are:

John Daniels - 77
Breyton Paulse- 70
Chris Badenhorst - 65
Stefan Terblanche - 60
André Joubert - 58

Who was the rugby international who designed the modern starting blocks used by sprinters? RAR, Scotland

His name was Henry ("Harry") Rottenburg who was born in Glasgow in 1875 and educated at Kelvinside Academy, Loretto and King's College, Cambridge. He won a rugby Blue in 1898 and played for London Scottish after going down from university in 1899.

Rottenburg attracted the attentions of the Scottish selectors after making his debut for the Barbarians against Stade Français at Rectory Field, Blackheath on February 15, 1899 in a 33-0 victory. This was the Baa-Baas' first match against overseas opponents and one of the earliest Anglo-French clashes.

Seventeen days later he made his Scotland debut in the match against Wales and went on to win five caps at full-back before leaving the UK in 1900 to work as an electrical engineer for Westinghouse in Pittsburg, U.S.A.

By 1910 he was back at Cambridge where he remained in residence as a don until his death in 1955. An all-round good-egg, he was prominent in the University's extra-curricular clubs, particularly the Footlights (drama) and the Pentacle (a magic society) where his inventive technical skills were given a free rein.

Harry Rottenburg was widely acknowledged as an outstanding engineer and for some 30 years ran the London Instrument Company which he founded as a vehicle for developing his own ingenious inventions.

He specialised in devising sporting equipment, the most famous of his designs being the prototype for the modern starting blocks used by sprinters and which first appeared at the London Olympics in 1948.

Andy Haden (r) took on London Welsh in 1974 for Ponsonby © PA Photos
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Do you have details of a match played between London Welsh and Ponsonby (NZ) in 1974? I believe the Welsh won by two penalties to nil. John Lane, England

The New Zealand club played four matches in England and Wales in March 1974. They beat Harlequins 16-6 but lost to Pontypool (6-16), Swansea (20-26) and London Welsh (0-6).

Among the Ponsonby tour party were All Blacks Bryan Williams, Terry Morrison, Lin Colling, Peter Whiting, Keith Nelson and Andy Haden. The London Welsh match was staged at Old Deer Park on Tuesday, Mach 26. John Taylor kicked two first-half penalty goals for London Welsh, both from forty yards.

The sides were:

London Welsh: D Coley; D Stone, K Hughes, J Shanklin, R Ellis-Jones; G James, W Hullin; J Young, A Baker, M Arnold, G Evans, J James, J Taylor (captain), J Vaughan, S James

Ponsonby: J Whiu; T Morrison, P Stainton, K McDonald, B Williams; J Murray, L Colling (captain); G Cox, A Hathaway, L Toki, K Howard, A Haden, G Kay, G Rutherford, B Nelson

Referee: Mr G W Petty (London Society)

Why is the 1908 Olympic final, Australia (representing Australasia) v Great Britain (represented by Cornwall) not listed as a Test? Paul Johns, New Zealand

The Olympic record may well show this as Australia v Great Britain but to the governing rugby unions of the sides involved the match was never anything more than a non-Test.

The touring Wallabies and France were invited to participate in the 1908 Games but France withdrew. Cornwall were chosen to represent Great Britain on account of their standing as the RFU's reigning county champions.

The tourists in fact had beaten the county 18-5 at Camborne early in the tour and when the sides met at the White City just over three weeks later on October 26, 1908, the tourists ran out 32-3 winners.

Neither side has ever considered the match as carrying Test cap status. Indeed, the Wallabies had fielded a stronger side in winning a tough match against London Counties 3-0 only two days before the Olympic Final.

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