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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
Penalty pain plagues Six Nations
John Griffiths
March 14, 2013
Danny Cipriani of England looks on during the match between England and South Africa at Twickenham in London, England on November 22, 2008.
Danny Cipriani is the only one-cap starter among the eight fly-halves England have used in the history of the Six Nations © Getty Images
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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 answers some International Championship-themed queries to coincide with the culmination of this year's Six Nations.

How does this season's try-to-penalty scoring ratio compare with previous Six Nations figures?

The stats make disappointing reading for those who believe that the point of rugby should be to score tries. The penalty goal, the bane of Test rugby from the 1950s until the introduction of the differential penalty (free-kick clause) in 1977, is dominating score-lines in the International Championship more significantly than at any time since the Six Nations began in 2000.

Season by season, the relevant figures are as follows:

Six Nations scoring breakdown
Season Tries Penalty Ratio
2000 75 93 0.81
2001 75 93 0.81
2002 75 89 0.84
2003 74 65 1.14
2004 68 69 0.99
2005 71 66 1.08
2006 61 73 0.84
2007 65 86 0.76
2008 50 83 0.60
2009 56 74 0.76
2010 48 83 0.58
2011 51 81 0.63
2012 46 77 0.60
2013 (after 12 games) 31 72 0.43

This season's ratio is running at just 0.43 tries for every successful penalty goal and unless there is a radical change in the scoring balances this weekend, it looks as if the Six Nations will see fewer than half as many tries as penalty goals for the first time in its 14-season history.

The ratio is nearly three times lower than in 2003, when more tries than penalties were scored for the first time in the Six Nations. The only other time that overall tries have led penalties was in 2005.

There were 13 penalties kicked in last weekend's Scotland-Wales match (with just one try) and eight (with two tries) in the England-France game last month - both controlled by South Africa's 2011 RWC Final referee, Craig Joubert.

Fewer than half of this year's matches (to date) have been won by the team scoring more tries, demonstrating the importance penalty goals are again having on matches.

It used to be the lineout that was called rugby's enfant terrible because so many offences took place at the set-piece. That unwanted label now seems to have passed to the scrum, where an increasing number of the penalties occur.

What is the worst run of away results in an individual International Championship fixture?

France went many years before winning for the first time in Wales and England. The Five Nations dates from 1910 but the French did not win on Welsh soil until 1948 (at Swansea) and had to wait until 1951 for their first Twickenham win.

But those details are misleading. France did not take part in the Championship from 1931 to 1939. They were re-admitted for the 1939-40 season but the outbreak of World War Two postponed their return until 1947.

In terms of Championship visits, England made 13 winless expeditions to Cardiff between 1963 and 1991 and Ireland did the same to Paris between 1972 and 2000.

Even so, Scotland's biennial trips to Twickenham for the Calcutta Cup hold the unwanted record in this respect. They have made 15 successive winless visits to Twickenham since their last success, in 1983.

Which country has fielded the least and the most starting No.10s in the Six Nations?

Up to last weekend each side had played 69 Six Nations games since 2000.

Ireland have used only four starting No.10s in the 13 years of the tournament, relying on David Humphreys, Ronan O'Gara, Jonathan Sexton and (this season) Paddy Jackson. France and Italy have both fielded a dozen different No.10s.

England's eight fly-halves begin with Jonny Wilkinson in their first 20 Six Nations matches (2000-2003). Owen Farrell (2012-13) and Toby Flood (2007-13 with breaks) have occupied the post most recently.

Charlie Hodgson had a run of two seasons in 2005 and 2006 before returning last year. Danny Cipriani is the only one-cap starter at No.10 among an English group that is completed by Paul Grayson, Olly Barkley and Andy Goode.

Stephen Jones has started most often among the seven Welsh fly-halves who have featured, his reign including a run of 21 successive Six Nations starts from 2003 to 2007. Scotland's ten No.10s include two converted fullbacks (Brendan Laney and Chris Paterson) and Greig Laidlaw (now established as a scrum-half).

What was the scoring sequence (with times if possible) in the 1999 Five Nations match between Wales and England at Wembley?

It was the last-ever Five Nations match, Wales playing their "home" games at Wembley that season because the Cardiff stadium was under reconstruction for the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Wales beat England 32-31 through a last-minute converted try to rob England of the Grand Slam after Lawrence Dallaglio's team had led for most of the match.

The scoring details were as follows:

First half:
3' Luger try & Wilkinson con E 7-0
5' Jenkins pen W 3-7
12' Jenkins pen W 6-7
15 Wilkinson pen E 10-6
19' Jenkins pen W 9-10
21' Hanley try E 15-9
26' Jenkins pen W 12-15
29' Jenkins pen W 15-15
36' Wilkinson pen E 18-15
39' Hill try & Wilkinson con E 25-15
40' Jenkins pen W 18-25

Second half:
2' Howarth try & Jenkins con W 25-25
6' Wilkinson pen E 28-25
15' Wilkinson pen E 31-25
40 + 2' Gibbs try & Jenkins con W 32-31

When was the last time Ireland called on so many players in a Six Nations campaign?

Ireland's call this season has been 31 in four matches to date, Ian Madigan becoming their most recent recruit when he came off the bench against France last weekend. Never before in a Six Nations campaign have they used more players.

In the first season of the augmented Championship they needed 30 players when the side was in flux. Players that year included stalwarts Conor O'Shea and Paddy Wallace, while Shane Horgan, Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer, John Hayes and Simon Easterby made their Test debuts against Italy after Ireland were walloped 50-18 at Twickenham.

The 2001 season was disrupted by the foot-and-mouth outbreak and Ireland were inconvenienced more than any other side. They beat Italy and France in February that year but did not complete their programme until September and October, their Championship effectively spanning two playing seasons. No surprise, then, that they needed 31 players that year.

Their lowest call was 22 in 2009 when they completed their first Grand Slam since 1948. Arguably success in the Championship is inversely proportional to the number of players called.

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