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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
Lions' last Test rescues, tallest scrum-halves and Johnno & Sir Clive
John Griffiths
July 6, 2009

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 fields questions on Lions' whitewashes, the tallest scrum-halves and 100% scoring contributions.

Q. How many times have the Lions rescued a Test whitewash by winning the last Test? Anon

A. Saturday's record-equalling score and winning margin for Lions Tests against the Springboks was the fourth time that they have avoided a whitewash by taking the last match in a series.

1938 South Africa, 2-1 Captain - Sammy Walker
1959 New Zealand, 3-1 Captain - Ronnie Dawson
1980 South Africa, 3-1 Captain - Bill Beaumont
2009 South Africa, 2-1 Captain - Paul O'Connell

Q. Who is the tallest scrum-half who has played international rugby? Anon

A. At 6' 3" Mike Phillips of the Lions and Wales is the tallest scrum-half in the history of international rugby.

It's a far cry from the days a hundred years ago when Dickie Owen, the star Welsh scrum-half of the first Grand Slams, measured just over the 60-inch level. His height was given officially as 5'1½". When he retired from Tests in 1912 he was the world's most-capped player, having played 35 times since 1901.

The first 70-inch scrum-half was the Springbok legend, Danie Craven, in the 1930s. He was matched after the Second World War by the Frenchman, Yves Bergougnan, who had a penchant for dropping goals. In the fifties, Lloyd Williams of Wales (brother of Bleddyn) became the first six-footer to work the scrums in internationals.

New Zealanders who watched the 1959 Lions recall the "giant" Stan Coughtrie of Scotland feeding the scrums on that tour. At 6'1½" he (and more recently Joost van der Westhuizen of South Africa) were the tallest international scrum-halves before Mike Phillips.

Q. Matt Giteau scored all 22 of Australia's points in their win against France in Sydney last week. What is the highest-ever 100% contribution to a Test score? Anon

A. The record in this respect is held by Portugal's Thierry Teixeira, the fly-half who kicked nine penalty goals (equalling the world record) and a dropped goal in the opening match of the second-tier Six Nations of 2000. He was on the losing side to visitors Georgia, who beat the Portuguese 32-30 in Lisbon.

The highest 100% winning contribution is 29 by Argentina's Santiago Mesón in their 29-26 thriller against Canada in Buenos Aires in a Pan-American Championship match in 1995.

The top three 100% contributions to a Test score are:

30 - Thierry Teixeira, Portugal 30-32 Georgia, Lisbon, 2000
29 - Santiago Meson, Argentina 29-26 Canada, Buenos Aires, 1995
27 - Jonny Wilkinson, England 27-22 South Africa, Bloemfontein, 2000

Q. How does Martin Johnson's record as England head coach compare with Sir Clive Woodward's after his first full season in charge? Anon

A. Martin Johnson's England in Tests (excluding the Barbarians match) in 2008-09 reads: P 11 W 5 L 6 For 248 Against 224 Success Rate* 45%

Clive Woodward's England record in 1997-98 was: P12 W 3 D 2 L 7 For 238 Against 380 Success Rate* 33%

In his first season, Johnson saw his charges whitewashed by the Tri-Nations in the autumn with South Africa inflicting England's biggest-ever home Test defeat (42-6). England then managed a runners-up finish in the Six Nations.

In comparison, Woodward's teams were also whitewashed by the Tri-Nations (in the summer of 1998 when Australia inflicted England's biggest-ever Test defeat 76-0). And like Johnson's team, his men had managed a runners-up finish in the old Five Nations.

Altogether Johnno called on 20 backs and 26 forwards among the 46 players used in the eleven Tests this season. Thirteen players were handed their first caps: Delon Armitage, Steffon Armitage, Matt Banahan, Jordan Crane, Riki Flutey, Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley, Nick Kennedy, Tom May, Ugo Monye, Chris Robshaw, Sam Vesty and David Wilson.

Back in 1997-98, Sir Clive used 25 backs and 27 forwards and 22 players were awarded their first caps.

Phil Vickery and Simon Shaw hold the unusual distinction of serving England during both Sir Clive Woodward and Martin Johnson's first seasons.

(*Success rates based on two points for a win and one for a draw.)

Q.When did individual tours to the Tri-Nations by the Five Nations begin?Anon

A.The case for short tours of New Zealand and South Africa made by the Home Unions gathered momentum in the 1950s with the greater accessibility of air travel. In 1957, South African supremo Dr Danie Craven put the case to the annual meeting of the International Rugby Board (IRB), arguing that short tours by the individual Home Unions were in the best interests of the game in overseas countries.

The Board accepted the proposal and in 1958 France became the first Five Nations Union to make a short tour of South Africa. Scotland and Ireland did so in 1960 and 1961 respectively, and in 1963 England visited Australia and New Zealand. Wales made their first overseas tour in 1964, to South Africa.

Q. Do you have any info on the Ranfurly Shield game in Christchurch in 1935? My late father, George Howell, played for Canterbury. Dave Howell, New Zealand

A. G J (George) Howell played his club rugby for Christchurch Albion and represented Canterbury 40 times as a forward between 1930 and 1935. Half of his matches were in Ranfurly Shield games.

Canterbury won the Shield from Wellington in 1931 and made 15 successful defences of the trophy in the following two years, George appearing in 13 of those matches. He played in their unsuccessful defence against Hawkes Bay (9-0) on 21 July 1934 and was still in the side when they wrested the Shield from Auckland with a 16-13 win thirteen months later. Canterbury resisted four Shield challenges on successive weekends in Christchurch in 1935 before losing it to Otago (15-6) in late September.

All told he was on the winning side in 18 of his 20 Ranfurly Shield matches for Canterbury. His only first-class points were a try against Southland in Christchurch in a 21-3 Ranfurly Shield defence on 19 August 1933.

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