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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
Record-breaking fixtures, the highest scoring draw and the Devenish brothers
John Griffiths
May 9, 2011
Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi powers through the Gloucester defence, Leicester Tigers v Gloucester, Aviva Premiership, Welford Road, Leicester, England, April 16, 2011
Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi powers through the Gloucester defence during their epic Aviva Premiership clash last month © 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 questions on record-breaking fixtures, the highest-scoring Premiership draw, the 1961 Springboks, the Devenish brothers and the Nations Cup.

NSW Waratahs & Queensland Reds have met 292 times since 1882. Is there any other meeting of two clubs or provincial or international teams that top that? Sean Fagan, Australia

Queensland made a short visit to Sydney in August 1882 and the first match between these great state rivals took place on Saturday, August 12, 1882, at the New South Wales Cricket Association Ground (later the Sydney Cricket Ground). NSW won by four goals and four tries to a goal at a time before scoring by points was introduced.

The match was widely covered in the Sydney press, Leatherstocking of the Sydney Mail reporting that between 3,000 and 4,000 were present for a match that was significant for there "not being a single dispute occurring".

The Queenslanders' last tour match, against a fifteen billed as a "Combined Team" comprising players from the metropolitan and suburban clubs, took place on Tuesday, August 22, and has come to be regarded as the second inter-state match. It resulted in a second win for the home side, this time by two goals and four tries to nil in front of only 500 spectators.

The sides have met regularly, sometimes playing three or four times a year. Queensland, however, ceased playing rugby union between 1920 and 1928, otherwise the states would already have reached their 300th fixture.

The honour, however, of becoming the first rivals to meet three hundred times at first-class level was achieved more than forty years ago. It is difficult to say with precision which were the first opponents to meet 300 times. Llanelli, Swansea, Newport and Cardiff have been playing regularly since the 1870s and often met four times a season.

Purists might argue that their present-day club fixtures are below rugby's top-tier, but it is known that Cardiff and Newport, who first met in December 1876, notched up their triple century of first-class meetings on Saturday, March 2, 1968.

Newport, who scored first through their wing Stuart Watkins, eventually fell 26-3, but both sides were packed with past or future international players, as they invariably were from 1876 until the advent of the regional franchises in Wales.

For interest, the teams in March 1968 were:

Cardiff - D Gethin; W K Jones, T G R Davies (captain), J R Uzzell, A A J Finlayson; B John, W G Hullin; F M D Knill, P Thomas, J P O'Shea, L Baxter, M Braithwaite, J Hickey, A R Pender, C Evans.

Newport - J Anthony; S J Watkins, K S Jarrett, G R Britton, P M Rees; G Phillips, B Mills; M Webber (captain), V C Perrins, T Davies, W J Morris, J Watkins, P Watts, J Jeffery, K W Poole.

All told, 15 of these were past or future Welsh internationals, including the entire three-quarter lines, while two other Cardiff internationals, Maurice Richards and Gareth Edwards, were rested ahead of the Ireland-Wales Five Nations match due to take place the week later.

Following that Leicester-Gloucester epic at Welford Road - what is the highest scoring draw in the Premiership? Graham, England

The only occasion on which both sides had scored four or more tries before in a drawn Premiership match was the opening game to the 2003-04 season when Sale drew 37-37 with Northampton on Friday, September 12, 2003.

That was the previous highest score-draw in the Premiership before the 41-41 tie on April 16. Leicester, moreover, had never conceded as many points in a League fixture at home.

In April 1996, when the English top-flight was referred to as the Courage League Division One, Sale came from behind to tie 38-all against bath on the last weekend of the League season. The result was good enough for Bath to pip Leicester (by a point) to the League title, the Tigers going down 21-19 at home to Harlequins the same day.

I know that the British & Irish Lions played against East Africa in both 1955 and 1962, but I believe that Avril Malan's 1960-61 Springboks also played a fixture in Nairobi on their way home from their tour of Britain, Ireland and France? Anon, South Africa

They certainly did. The South Africans won 39-0 in what J B G Thomas (in his book on the tour Springbok Glory) described as "perhaps the most light-hearted performance of their tour."

The tourists had flown out of London on Wednesday February 22 and reached Johannesburg on Sunday 26. The British press reported that the match was played on Saturday 25 February during a stopover in Nairobi against an East African side comprising mainly British expats.

Under the heading "Easy for Springboks" one Sunday newspaper reported: "The South African Rugby touring side scored 21 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half on their way to a 39-0 victory over East Africa at Nairobi yesterday. The Springboks led 13-0 at halftime."

I have noticed contradictory records that Tiger and Charlie Devenish, who played for South Africa in 1891 and 1896, were brothers. Could you perhaps shed some light on the relationship of these two players and indeed a third Devenish, George, who also played for South Africa? Andrew de Klerk, South Africa

Only George Edward ("Tiger") and Charles Edwin (Charles) Devenish were brothers. George St Leger ("Long George") Devenish was possibly a distant relative through a common Irish ancestor who had settled in South Africa early in the nineteenth century. Tiger Devenish (1870-1930) played against the 1891 British/Irish side and Charlie (1874-1922) was capped against the 1896 tourists. When Charlie died his Test-playing brother was among the funeral mourners.

Long George Devenish (1871-1943) - so-called because at 6ft 4in he was the tallest half-back to play for South Africa in the days before specialism became the norm - was also capped against the 1896 British/Irish team and was later a South African selector (1912-1938).

The European Cup is now a part of the calendar. I believe FIRA had a cup in the 1960s. Who were the winners? James Hothersall, Australia

France were banned from the Five Nations Championship after 1931 and relied on Italy, Germany and Romania for international competition in the 1930s. The French were the driving force behind the formation of the Federation Internationale de Rugby (FIRA) in 1934 and were winners of informal competitions arranged among those European nations between 1935 and 1938.

France were re-admitted to the Five Nations for the 1939-40 season, but War delayed their active return to the Championship until the 1946-47 campaign. Even so, France retained their rugby contacts with Continental nations and invariably awarded full cap status for their post-war international matches with both Italy (from 1952 to 1967) and Romania.

FIRA's Cup was a European Nations tournament that went under various names before the official FIRA Trophy began in 1973-74. The Nations Cup ran from 1965-66 to 1972-73 before the Trophy superseded it until 1997.

France invariably won the tournament, though several times Romania managed to beat the full French sides to carry off the title in 1968-69, 1974-75, 1976-77, 1980-81 and 1982-83.

So strong were the Romanians between 1960 and 1988 that there was considerable clamour for them to be added to the Five Nations tournament. Italy became a force to be reckoned with in the late 1990s and their win against the full French Grand Slam team of 1997 in Grenoble brought the azzurri their first European title in the last year of the FIRA tournament.

The gradual embracement by the International Board of nations beyond their traditional senior membership - the Five Nations and Tri-Nations - led to FIRA falling under the Board's umbrella, while the promise made to Italy that they would be promoted to the Six Nations from 2000 led to the metamorphosis of the old FIRA tournament into the FIRA-AER European Nations Cup, a Six Nations Championship for the next tier of Continental nations.

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