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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
The ruthless All Blacks, Test appearance records and the youngest Test player ever
John Griffiths
October 25, 2010

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 100% Test appearance records, free-scoring Test teams, brothers in international rugby and gentle giants and Test teenagers.

Given that it is only 20 or so years ago when virtually no country ever played more than five or six international games a season, who would be the most capped players if 1) caps were counted as a percentage of those games played by their countries over their international careers, and 2) the same but ignore caps as replacements? Dick Pearson, England

There are three players with 100% appearance records for Test careers that spanned at least ten seasons.

R W "Bulldog" Irvine was ever-present for Scotland in the first ten seasons of international rugby (1871 to 1880). A forward, he appeared as a teenager in the first-ever rugby international, played between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, in March 1871. His only opponents in those early years were England and, from 1877, Ireland. All told he won 13 caps before retiring as Scotland's captain after the match with England at Manchester in February 1880.

In February 1890 there began the remarkable Test career of the Swansea fullback Billy Bancroft. He came in for Wales's opening game of that season as a late replacement for Newport's Tommy England. Bancroft went on to win 33 caps for Wales and never missed a game until standing down after leading his country against Ireland in March 1901. It was Bancroft's proud claim that during that unbroken run he also took every place kick - conversions or penalty goal attempts - awarded to his country.

The most recent 100% record was achieved by Gareth Edwards whose 53 successive caps for Wales were won between April 1967 and March 1978.

Two other famous Welsh players with long careers narrowly failed to make this milestone. Haydn Tanner was chosen as his country's scrum-half for every cap-match between December 1935 and March 1949. He collected 25 caps but had to withdraw from the match against Australia in December 1947 after bruising an elbow in a club game. Newport flyer Ken Jones was ever-present on the right-wing for Wales from 1947 to 1956, making 43 successive appearances after the War before being dropped for the England game in 1957. He was recalled for his last cap a few weeks later. Scotland's Sandy Carmichael missed only one Test (playing 49 out of 50) between 1967 and 1978.

Wavell Wakefield's Test career for England only spanned eight seasons after the Great War. Moreover, he missed the opening two games of the 1927 Five Nations before returning later in the season to take part in defeats by Scotland and France.

Under the same ten-season career-span condition but admitting replacement appearances, Ian Kirkpatrick of New Zealand's record should be mentioned. He made his Test debut against France in November 1967 but missed the Test against Scotland a week later. In the opening Test of the 1968 southern hemisphere season he managed to score three tries as a replacement against Australia in Sydney and thereafter was ever-present in All Black Test sides through to the end of the 1977 series against the Lions.

The All Blacks have now scored tries in their last 79 consecutive test matches. The last time the All Blacks were denied a try was against Australia in Sydney on 7 August, 2004. How does that compare to anyone else? Barry, New Zealand

It is an ongoing world record for try-scoring in consecutive matches.

England had a run of 46 Tests between March 1911 and March 1927 in which they scored at least one try. It ended in Wavell Wakefield's last match for his country, the 3-0 defeat by France in Paris in April 1927 - France's first-ever success against England.

Australia played fewer matches but compiled a longer run in terms of years, scoring tries in every Test they played between 1914 and 1932. The Wallabies then matched the ancient England record between 2002 and 2006. Their 46-match run started against Ireland in Dublin in 2002 and ended against the All Blacks in the 2006 Tri-Nations.

New Zealand's run has been the record since the 2008 Tri-Nations.

Following on your list of the sets of twin brothers having played Test rugby could you perhaps detail instances where three brothers have represented a Five Nations/Tri Nations union? Andrew, South Africa

England:

COP, GR and TA Gibson JT, R and WH Hunt

Scotland:

GT, RT, W and WG Neilson (four) AB, JF and NJ Finlay DF, IG and KS Milne

Ireland:

BR, EF and GP Doran AJ, EG and H Forrest FMW, GAD and TA Harvey FS, TR and VA Hewitt R, RW and WE Johnstone H, J and S McVicker CM, DF and FW Moore J, R and TB Pedlow DJ, JF and JP Ross PJ, T and WS Smyth DP, PS and RM Wallace (all British/Irish Lions)

Wales:

AJ, GH and R Gould DP "Ponty", JP "Jack" and JP "Tuan" Jones

France:

Marc, Matthieu and Thomas Lièvremont

South Africa:

HP J, MJ and RP Bekker CJ, MJ and W du Plessis FP, JD and RR Luyt

New Zealand:

No instance at Test level*

Australia:

GA, GJ and MG Ella AJ, HE and JL Tancred

Apart from the Neilsons of Scotland, two other families have produced four siblings who have played international rugby for current top-twelve nations: the Francescatos of Italy and the Tuilagis for Samoa.

* There were three Brownlie brothers and three Nicholls who played for the All Blacks in the 1920s but not all in Tests. Similarly the famous McLean family of Brisbane had three brothers who were Wallaby tourists though not all played Test rugby

You recently covered a question relating to New Zealand becoming the top points-scorers alltime in test rugby. I looked this up and I saw the list of total points for many different nations, and was incredibly surprised to see one nation high up on the list... Argentina... How is a nation like Argentina, who hasn't come into the public eye until lately, so high up on that list? Noah Doss, United States

Argentina began their Test career in 1910 and until recently awarded caps for their matches against South American neighbours. The explanation for their high aggregate is that they have been so superior to their local counterparts invariably carrying off the South American Championship and often posting scores of 100 points of more against Paraguay, Brazil and Venezuela.

Since their outstanding performances in the 2007 Rugby World Cup however, the UAR have revised their classification of such matches and now only field their A team, known as the Argentina Jaguars (not to be confused with the South American Jaguars who played Tests against South Africa in the 1980s) for matches in the South American Championship. These post-2007 "internationals" are not included in their official Test statistics.

Obituaries for David Marques, who died last month, described him as a "gentleman giant." How tall was he?

At 6' 5" David Marques would have been dwarfed by the likes of Paul Ackford, Wade Dooley, Martin Bayfield and Courtney Lawes who followed him in the England second-row. But when he won his first cap, against Wales at Twickenham in 1956, Marques was the then-tallest man to appear in Test rugby. It was a record he held until the advent of Scotland's Peter Stagg, in 1965.

Marques was an athletic and elegant line-out jumper who won a wealth of possession for the England sides that won the Grand Slam in 1957 and were Five Nations champions - outright or joint - three times during his Test career. Like most line-out specialists he enjoyed the rougher skills of a solid workhorse second-row partner. His "minder" was John Currie and together the pair played 22 successive internationals for England between 1956 and 1961. Though they had begun their first-class careers as opponents (Marques for Cambridge University and Currie for Oxford), for most of their playing time the pair were associated with the Harlequins club.

Who was the youngest to play international rugby? Nolo, Tonga

Dates of birth are not available for all who have played Test rugby.

Among the Five Nations and Tri-Nations, however, the youngest players to be capped to date is Ninian Finlay of Scotland who was 17 years and 36 days when he played against England in 1875. His compatriot Charles Reid was also 17 years and 36 days on his debut against Ireland in 1881.

The purists argue (with mathematical accuracy) that Reid was actually a day older than Finlay on debut, having lived through an extra leap-day!

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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