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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
Roses and bonus points
John Griffiths
January 30, 2013
Wales captain Sam Warburton lifts the Six Nations silverware, Wales v France, Six Nations, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, March 17, 2012
Would the history of the Five/ Six Nations be different if bonus points were introduced? © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: Six Nations | Heineken Cup
Teams: England | Toulouse

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 bonus points in the Six Nations, Sunday rugby in Wales, international emblems and Heineken Cup queries.

Why doesn't the Six Nations use the bonus-point system? Dave Brough, England

The two-points for a win, one for a draw format was the whim of the Press when newspapers began listing unofficial Championship tables in the late nineteenth century.

The International Championship (Five Nations) did not become an official competition (with a spanking new trophy) until just twenty years ago - in 1993, but the tournament's organisers decided to uphold the system which had been unofficially in force for a hundred years.

The only change they made to the old press system was to adopt points difference and tries scored as a means of separating teams that finished the campaign with equal tournament points, ensuring that there would be only one winner of the trophy.

Prior to 1993, the press tradition had been to bracket nations with equal tournament points, most famously forty years ago when the 1973 Five Nations finished in a unique quintuple tie with all five teams winning their two home games and losing their two away ones.

At the official launch of this year's Six Nations tournament in January, it was noted that the Championship's magnificent trophy is now adorned with plaques showing the retrospective "winners" (and their captains) dating back to the early days of the unofficial competition. The retrospective winners have been calculated on the two-points for a win and one for a draw system. Moreover, the old press tradition of showing shared titles has been acknowledged.

Probably the main reason for not changing the tournament points format to fall into line with the Premiership, RaboDirect, Super Rugby and Rugby Championship (former Tri-Nations) bonus system is the Grand Slam.

Winning all matches in the Championship has become the holy grail of the Six Nations. Adopting the bonus-point method would mean that mathematically it becomes possible for a nation to win the Grand Slam yet finish as runner-up in the table.

When was Sunday rugby officially sanctioned in Wales? Who played in the first Sunday match? Matthew Jenkins, England

The first Sunday match officially allowed by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) was on Sunday September 1, 1974. The teams involved were Neath Athletic and visiting Stade Clermontois from France. The home side ran out 22-9 winners in front of a crowd of one thousand.

The Welsh clubs had unsuccessfully tried to introduce Sunday rugby in 1972, but were outvoted by the narrow margin of 182-174 by delegates at the WRU's AGM.

The Cardiff & District Union raised the issue at the 1974 AGM. Although the WRU executive were against the proposal, delegates this time overwhelmingly voted in favour. Clubs were restricted to no more than six Sunday games, though in practice very few Sunday games were actually staged.

I was looking at some old photos of the 1886 England team and saw each player had different roses on their shirt - I expect reflecting their own county - when did they change to a standardised version? Tom H, England

The 1886 England team © PA Photos
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In the invitation to players to appear in the early years of international rugby, the RFU used to include instructions regarding where they could collect their jersey and red-rose badge. There was a supplier in London and there might have been one somewhere in the north of the country as well, giving rise to possible differences in design.

Once they'd received their first jersey (and cap), players were expected to retain them for any possible future use. Only one jersey (and cap) was ever issued.

During the early years the badge-maker changed and so did the emblem design. So a player who'd been first capped in the 1870s would have a very different badge from one capped in the 1880s and so on.

The England captain with the ball in the 1886 group against Scotland is Temple Gurdon who'd been first-capped eight years earlier. His (faded) badge is quite different from Ernest Brutton (at the far right of the back-row) who was the only new cap in that 1886 Calcutta Cup match.

Similar stories hold for the other home unions, though their badges do seem to become more uniform than the English groups from an earlier time. The Scots thistle badges, on navy blue, are remarkably alike on the team photos of the 1880s - but their jerseys became more faded with time, so that on old black-and-white team groups the senior players look as if they're wearing a different colour (almost white) jersey than the junior team members. The navy blue dye presumably weakened with every post-match wash.

Even as late as 1892, there are still noticeable differences in the England players' roses. In the 1892 side against Scotland two of the Lancashire-based players (Edward Bullough and Tom Coop) have distinctly larger (Lancashire) roses than the rest.

The English group at Cardiff in 1893 are shown wearing overcoats in the official team photo making comparison impossible (it was a snowy day), but for the Scottish game the sides were taken together and by now the English team seem at last to have uniform badges.

The design of course changed many times subsequently and, at length, the players were issued with fresh jerseys with uniform designs before each match. Except the Scots. They were expected to retain their original jerseys until the 1920s - with sometimes chaotic consequences in the cases of the two or three who were capped before and after WW1!

When did the bonus-point system begin in the Heineken Cup and which sides (like Edinburgh this year) have subsequently finished their pool commitments with zero tournament points? Graham, England

The tournament adopted the four points for a win, two for a draw and bonus points for scoring four or more tries or losing by seven or fewer points in 2003-04. Before that, tournament points were restricted to two for a win, one for a draw and nothing for losing.

Under the current system, ten teams (eight of them Italian) have now registered zero points after the pool stage, as follows:

Fruitless Heineken Cup campaigns
Season Team Other pool teams
2004-05 Calvisano Biarritz, Leicester, Wasps
2005-06 Calvisano Perpignan, Leeds, Cardiff Blues
2006-07 Calvisano Stade Français, Ospreys, Sale
2006-07 Treviso Wasps, Perpignan, Castres
2007-08 Llanelli Scarlets Munster, Clermont-Auvergne, Wasps
2008-09 Treviso Leicester, Ospreys, Perpignan
2008-09 Calvisano Cardiff Blues, Biarritz, Gloucester
2009-10 Viadana Clermont-Auvergne, Leicester, Ospreys
2011-12 Aironi Clermont-Auvergne, Ulster, Leicester
2012-13 Edinburgh Saracens, Munster, Racing Métro 92

How many times have Toulouse failed to qualify for the last eight of the H Cup? JV, France

Defeat by Leicester condemned them to the also-rans for the first time for six years. Toulouse have been ever-presents in the Heineken Cup and fell at the pool stage for only the fourth time in the 18 tournaments to date. Their previous failures were as follows:

Toulouse's Heineken Cup failings
Season Pool finish Other pool teams
2000-01 Third Cardiff, Saracens, Ulster
2001-02 Second Leinster, Newport, Newcastle
2006-07 Second Llanelli Scarlets, Ulster, London Irish
2012-13 Second Leicester, Ospreys, Treviso

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