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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
Varsity matches and autumn tries
John Griffiths
January 2, 2013
Oxford's John Carter holds aloft the Varsity Trophy, Oxford University v Cambridge University, Twickenham Stadium, London, England, December 6, 2012
John Carter (with cup) captained Oxford to back-to-back Varsity match wins in 2011 and 2012 © PA Photos
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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 the Varisty match, autumn Test try-scorers and South African celebration matches.

Which captains led their side in back-to-back Varsity Matches? W R Davies, Wales

John Carter, who did so for Oxford last season and this, became the fifteenth back-to-back on-field skipper in the fixture and the first captain to lead successive winning sides since Mark Bailey (Cambridge) in the early-1980s.

The only other back-to-back winning skippers in the fixture were Harry Vassall (Oxford early 1880s), Ernest Brutton (Cambridge in the mid-1880s) and Angus Stewart (Cambridge in the mid-1970s).

The full list of captains in successive matches is as follows:

W O Moberley (Oxford 1871-2 & 1872-3), J M Batten (Cambridge 1873-4 & 1874-5), E T Gurdon (Cambridge 1875-6 & 1876-7), H Vassall (Oxford 1881-2 & 1882-3), E B Brutton (Cambridge 1885-6 & 1886-7), T W P Storey (Cambridge 1890-1 & 1891-2), D R Bedell-Sivright (Cambridge 1901-2 & 1902-3), E G Taylor (Oxford 1927-8 & 1928-9), H D B Lorraine (Oxford 1933-4 & 1934-5), M M Cooper (Oxford 1935-6 & 1936-7), R H Phillips (Oxford 1967-8 & 1968-9), A A Stewart (Cambridge 1975-6 & 1976-7), T P Enevoldson (1979-80 & 1980-1), M D Bailey (Cambridge 1983-4 & 1984-5) and J Carter (Oxford 2011-2 & 2012-3).

Temple Gurdon declined an invitation to play for England in order to captain his University. The 1875 Varsity match was played on December 13 - the same day as England's first-ever Test on Irish soil. He was subsequently capped against Scotland in 1878.

NB: J E "Jenny" Greenwood who led Cambridge either side of World War One (in 1912-13 and 1919-20) had given way as captain to B S Cumberlege for the 1913-14 Varsity match, Cambridge winning all three games. Similarly E Bole (Cambridge skipper in the 1945-6 and 1947-8 matches which the Light Blues won) gave way as captain to M R Steele-Bodger when Cambridge lost in 1946-7.

It was reported that Rob Stephen was the first music scholar to win a Cambridge Blue in living memory. Who was Cambridge's most distinguished musical Blue? David Scott, England

Rob Stephen was Cambridge's full-back in last month's 'Varsity Match. A King's College choral scholar studying Classics, he took part in the recent Christmas Eve carol concert from King's chapel.

This column invites interested readers to submit other candidates but arguably the most distinguished musical Cambridge Blue since the match moved to Twickenham in 1921 was Marcus Dods. He had appeared in the Rugby School first XV in 1934-5 and 1935-6 before playing in the Light Blues' back-row in the last official 'Varsity match before World War Two.

Like Stephen, Dods was a choral scholar at King's College when he won his only Blue in December 1938. Cambridge won the match 8-6 in perfect conditions in front of a crowd of 35,000, Scottish international Rab Bruce-Lockhart scoring a try which future Scotland captain, Keith Geddes, converted. Geddes also landed a penalty. The match was the first of the series in which three penalty goals were kicked, Ian Watts landing two for Oxford.

Scrum formations were generally 3-2-3 in those days but Oxford created something of a stir by packing 3-4-1 for the match. Cambridge's adherence to tradition was given as the reason for their success. The Light Blue forwards packed tighter with Dods in the middle of the back-row "locking" the scrum most effectively, it was reported.

Dods, it might be added, was born in Edinburgh of a noted Scottish family. He became a distinguished composer, arranger and conductor who worked for the Rank film organisation and for the BBC. His credits included the Friday Night is Music Night radio programme and he composed the music for the marathon 26-part BBC Television adaptation of The Forsyte Saga screened in the 1960s.

When did the convention of the past captains running the touchlines at the Varsity match end? Matthew Wheeler, England

Referees did not officiate at the early matches between 1872 and 1880. These games were overseen by a pair of umpires nominated by the Universities. The players were such gentlemen it was argued, that a referee (whose only duty in those times was to settle disputes over points of law) was deemed unnecessary.

When referees finally took charge from 1881, the convention of involving University officials was maintained by the teams electing their own touch-judges and, at length, it became the norm for the previous season's captains to run the lines at the annual match.

The tradition ended early in the professional era. The RFU Referees' Committee ruled that, from the 1997-98 season, only qualified officials should act as touch-judges. The 1997 match also marked the end of another cherished old tradition: that of the universities themselves choosing the match referee, which was also ceded to the RFU committee.

Not that the Universities had ever encountered any difficulty securing the services of leading officials. Two of rugby's most distinguished referees of the past, Rowland Hill (in the late nineteenth century) and Gwynn Walters (in the 1950s and 1960s), hold the record for the fixture, officiating at seven Varsity matches.

Julian Savea scored six tries during the recent Tests in Europe. What is the record for an autumn series? Anon, New Zealand

The New Zealander crossed for two tries in each of the All Blacks' Tests with Scotland, Italy and England to match the feat of Australia's David Campese in 1988. The former Wallaby, who at one time held the world record for most tries in Tests, crossed once against England, twice against Scotland and managed a hat-trick against Italy that autumn.

New Zealand's Julian Savea coasts in to score a try, Scotland v New Zealand, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, November 11, 2012
Julian Savea scored six tries in the 2012 autumn internationals © Getty Images
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Three New Zealanders have scored five Test tries on autumn visits to Europe. The Gear brothers scored five each - Rico in 2005 and Hosea in 2010 - and Sitiveni Sivivatu also grabbed five in 2006.

Do you have details of the Jubilee matches staged in South Africa in 1964 to mark the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the South African Rugby Board? A van Zyl, South Africa

Three matches were staged in May 1964. The details of the games were as follows:

May 9, Ellis Park, Johannesburg

White XV (4G 4T) 32 pts beat the Green XV (2G 3PG 1T) 22 pts

White XV: L G Wilson; C W Dirksen, J L Gainsford, N W Labuschagne, J P Engelbrecht; K Oxlee, C M Smith; W J Whinery (captain), A R Dawson, J E Thornett, M J Campbell-Lamerton, C E Meads, K R Tremain, A E I Pask, G V Davis

Scorers Tries: Labuschagne (2), Engelbrecht (2), Dirksen (2), Smith, Meads Conversions: Oxlee (4)

Green XV: D B Clarke; M K Flynn, P F Hawthorne, B J Ellwood, M S Phillips; D Watkins, K C Briscoe; J L Myburgh, G F Malan (captain), J F K Marais, J P Naude, H S van der Merwe, F C H du Preez, D J Hopwood, J P F Botha

Scorers Tries: Watkins, Ellwood, Phillips Conversions: Clarke (2) Penalty Goals: Clarke (3) Referee Dr G K Engelbrecht (South Africa)

May 13, Boet Erasmus Stadium, Port Elizabeth

Dr D H Craven's XV (4G 2PG 1DG) 29 pts beat Mr T H Pearce's XV (3G 2PG 1T) 24 pts

Dr D H Craven's XV: L G Wilson; C W Dirksen, M K Flynn, J L Gainsford, D Hughes; D A Stewart, K C Briscoe; W J Whinery, G F Malan, J E Thornett (captain), H S van der Merwe, C E Meads, R J C Glasgow, G V Davis, J P F Botha

Scorers Tries: Dirksen, Stewart, Gainsford, Flynn Conversions: Hughes (4) Penalty Goals: Hughes (2) Dropped Goal: Wilson

Mr T H Pearce's XV: D B Clarke; W J Mans, N W Labuschagne, M S Phillips, J P Engelbrecht; P F Hawthorne, C M Smith; J L Myburgh, A R Dawson (captain), R J McLoughlin, F C H du Preez, M J Campbell-Lamerton, K R Tremain, A E I Pask, T P Bedford

Scorers Tries: Engelbrecht (2), Mans, McLoughlin Conversions: Clarke (3) Penalty Goals: Clarke (2)

Referee Mr K R V Carlson (South Africa)

May 16, Newlands, Cape Town

SARB President's XV (7G 3T) 44 pts beat the Outsiders' XV (3G 1PG 2T) 24 pts

SARB President's XV: L G Wilson; C W Dirksen, J L Gainsford, N W Labuschagne, J P Engelbrecht; K Oxlee, C M Smith; W J Whinery (captain), A R Dawson, J E Thornett, M J Campbell-Lamerton, C E Meads, R J C Glasgow, A E I Pask, G V Davis

Scorers Tries: Whineray (2), Wilson, Oxlee, Engelbrecht, Smith, Thornett, Davis, Pask, Meads Conversions: Oxlee (7)

Outsiders' XV: D B Clarke; D Hughes, M K Flynn, B J Ellwood, J T Truter; D Watkins, K C Briscoe; J L Myburgh, G F Malan (captain), J F K Marais, A S Malan, A van Wyk, F C H du Preez, D J Hopwood, J P F Botha

Scorers Tries: A S Malan (2), Clarke, Du Preez, G F Malan Conversions: Clarke (3) Penalty Goals: Clarke

Referee Capt P A Myburgh (South Africa)

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