Unofficial world champions, Albert Ferrasse and schools with most Lions
January 17, 2011
Former Blackrock College pupil Brian O'Driscoll in action for the Lions on their 2009 tour of South Africa © Getty Images
Welcome to the latest edition of Ask John where renowned rugby historian John Griffiths will answer any rugby-related query you have!
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In this edition John answers questions on the unofficial world champions, Albert Ferrasse, the schools that have produced the most Lions, France playing in red and European Challenge Cup dismissals.
I know that there is a website that tracks the unofficial football world champion by using the idea of "winner stays on" and I was wondering if doing the same thing for international rugby union would throw up any surprises? Also, would it make a significant difference if British Lions' Test matches were included? Tim Skepper, England
This system uses the boxing concept that the winner of any title match is the world championship-holder. It is therefore dependant on the chronological order of matches.
Applying the system to rugby internationals since March 27th 1871 provides the following outcomes (with drawn matches resulting in the title being retained by the holder):
Year - Title holder
By virtue of their 21-16 victory in Cape Town in the final Test of the 1938 series against South Africa the Lions were holders of the world championship during the war years (and up to 1950 when they played their next series). To be continued next time.
How close did Albert Ferrasse come to playing international rugby for France? Steve John, Wales
Albert Ferrasse came from a rural background in the Garonne and rose to become the first non English-speaking chairman of the IRB (1987) having championed the RWC concept.
A good table-tennis and rugby player in his youth, he played second-row for Marmande, Cognac and for Agen in the side that won the French Championship beating Lourdes in 1945. He was also in the Agen side that were runners-up to Toulouse two years later. He was almost 30 then and had been unlucky to find his playing career interrupted by war. France were well-served by Robert Soro and Alban "Bamby" Moga during Ferrasse's later playing days. Together they formed the French second-row on 21 occasions between 1945 and 1949 - there was only one French Test when they were not paired - effectively shutting Ferrasse out of the international reckoning.
After his rugby career was over Ferrasse moved on to become a well-known referee (taking control of the Racing Club de France v Mont-de-Marsan Final in 1959) and was elected a committee member of the FFR. As its president from 1968 to 1991, he was instrumental in France being elected to full membership of the IRB (1978) and ran the Federation with an iron fist that suppressed professionalism yet promoted a professional approach to the administration of the then-amateur game.
Ferrasse was hugely respected for his leadership especially by the true-blue amateurs of the Home Unions and upheld the traditions of the international game, being especially sympathetic to South African rugby when it had few friends.
Which school has produced most British/Irish Lions? John Jenkins, Wales
Not all past Lions' schools are known; moreover, some schools have become known by different names in recent years. For example, the former Bridgend County School where Wales and 1950 Lion Jack Matthews was educated had become Brynteg School by the time Rob Howley and Gareth Thomas, Lions of more recent vintage, were students.
To the best of knowledge, the honour for producing most Lions belongs to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI). At the last count there had been eleven former pupils honoured by selection for the Lions, including two tour captains:
Player - Year
Sir Donald Currie was another former pupil of the RBAI who had a strong link with British/Irish tours. In 1891, when the Lions sailed to South Africa for the first time, he gave them a magnificent silver Cup to present to the South African team that put up the best performance against the tourists. At length the visitors were invincible, but the Cup was nevertheless donated to Griqualand West and in turn passed to the South African Rugby Board who put it up as the prize for the winners of their domestic provincial competitions.
Blackrock College in Dublin run the RBAI a close second. Their most recent former pupil to tour with the Lions was Brian O'Driscoll, who became the school's ninth Lion. (The Blackrock College RFC senior club has produced several more Lions but not all were former pupils of the school).
Christ College Brecon have also produced nine Lions (including six in the 1908 Anglo-Welsh party) while their old Welsh school rivals, Llandovery College, have had eight spanning the entire Lions era: William H Thomas went on the inaugural tour to New Zealand and Australia in 1888 while Andy Powell and Alun-Wyn Jones were in the squad that visited South Africa in 2009.
Is it true that France played in red shirts in past international matches? James, New Zealand
Three times in the late 1950s France experimented with red jerseys. They wore red against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1958 and a couple of months later repeated the experiment for the match at Stade Colombes against Australia.
The match with the Wallabies was played on a Sunday and the colour switch was taken to ease identification for black-and-white television viewers. The match was relayed to the British Isles through Eurovision with commentary by the well-known Welsh broadcaster, Alun Wiilliams.
France wore red jerseys again in January 1959 for the opening match of the season's Five Nations Championship against Scotland in Paris.
Further to your list of dismissals in the Heineken Cup, who is in the "Hall of Shame" in the Challenge Cup? Andrew Willis, England
The following were red-carded in the Challenge Cup competitions up to the beginning of this season:
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