Ask John
The forward pass, the longest international tour and Gus Black
John Griffiths
May 9, 2012

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 the forward pass, the longest international tour, oldest surviving Scotland and New Zealand Test stars and World Cup holders' Test records between global gatherings.

I have question which I've been trying to answer for a few years. Unfortunately I couldn't find the answer, maybe you can help me. The main rule in rugby says that you can only pass backwards. Where did it come from? As far as I know this rule has been part of the game since the beginning, but what was original idea behind it? Who was the inventor? When did it start? Maciej Niedzwiecki, Poland

The main forms of football - rugby, association, American, Gaelic and Aussie Rules - evolved from football codes played at the major English public schools in the early years of the 19th century.

The so-called "Rugby Rules" developed from the game played by the pupils at Rugby School and the first written code of laws, drawn up by Rugby schoolboys, appeared in 1845.

The second rule stated: "OFF SIDE. A player is off his side if the ball has touched one of his own side behind him, until the other side touch it."

Passing was unknown until a little later in the eighteenth century, but it is clear to understand why the forward pass, when handling between players became more common in the second half of the 1800s, should be against the spirit of the game.

The laws were regularly amended at Rugby School and the first written rule regarding the ball being thrown forward appeared in the revised code published in 1862. The off-side law now appeared fifth on the growing list of rules and read as follows: "OFF SIDE. A player is off his side when the ball has been kicked, or thrown, or knocked on, or is being run with by any one of his own side behind him."

Which was the longest international tour of all time? Steve John, Wales

The 1888 New Zealand Native team played more than 100 rugby matches (and a number of Aussie Rules games) in the course of a tour that lasted more than a year between June 1888 and August 1889. The side (known as "The Maoris") convened in Napier in June 1888 and over the next five weeks played nine games (winning seven and losing two) on an internal tour of the North and South Islands of New Zealand.

They left Dunedin on August 1, 1888, bound for Australia where they played two games (winning one and drawing the other) in Melbourne before embarking on a six-week journey to England via Suez. They reached Tilbury Docks in London on September 27, 1888, and played their first match on British/Irish soil on October 3 against Surrey. All told, they undertook 74 games in England, Scotland (just one - against Hawick) and Wales up to March 27, 1889. In exactly six months in the Home Unions they won 49, drew five and lost 20. Three internationals were played: against Ireland (won), Wales (lost) and England (lost).

They departed from Plymouth on March 29, 1889, arriving in Australia in May for a further two-month leg of 14 rugby matches (all won) and eight under Aussie Rules (won three; lost five). The team finally returned to New Zealand on August 5, 1889 - a year and four days after leaving - but undertook another eight internal matches (winning seven and losing their last game, to Auckland) between August 7 and August 24.

So altogether the tour, including the opening and closing legs in NZ, had lasted one year and two months from the first game (June 23 1888 in Napier) to the last (August 24 1889 in Auckland).

Overall (rugby) tour record: P 107 W 78 D 6 L 23

It stands as easily the longest major tour ever undertaken.

Who is the oldest living Scottish International Rugby player? Angus Black, Scotland

Not all births and death dates for Scottish internationalists are known, but one of their senior players, Dr "Donny" Innes who played both before and after World War Two, passed away earlier this year. However, two Scots capped before the War are thought to be still alive. Archie Drummond, the 1938 cap, is, at 96, Scotland's senior survivor, while Ian Henderson, who played in the front-row before and after the War, is 93.

Scotland's first post-war Test was against France in Paris on New Year's Day, 1947. It was the first Five Nations match involving France for 16 years, relations with the French having been severed in 1931.

To the best of knowledge, several survive from that 1947 Paris match: Ian Henderson (born 1918), George Cawkwell (1919), J M Hunter (b 1920), Ian Lumsden (1923) and Gus Black and Tom McGlashan (both born in 1925).

The question was submitted by Gus Black's son and when Scrum caught up with Dr Black senior at the weekend the former scrum-half was in fine fettle and about to celebrate his 87th birthday. He has clear memories of the 1947 match that re-launched official international rugby in Europe.

"We travelled by train and boat via Dover and stayed at the Hotel Lutetia which had been the Paris headquarters for the Gestapo during their war-time occupation. They'd cleaned the blood from the floors before the SRU party arrived. It was palatial.

"I remember Cyril Gadney, a well-known referee from before and after the War, was in charge of the match. Early on we had a scrum and I put the ball in at 45 degrees to the tunnel. The Paris crowd made a loud hissing noise when there was no penalty. Gadney whispered in my ear, 'Let's have it in straighter next time. Don't do it again', but allowed play to continue.

"What struck me about the French was their innate ability for the game. They had been out of international rugby since 1931, but their kicking, passing and backing up were fast and accurate. We did well to hold them and only lost narrowly. They had two very big second-rows - Moga and Soro. They were off the planet. I remember one holding me while the other kicked me in the groin. I had a swelling the size of a tennis ball for days after.

"The banquet after the match was at the Eiffel Tower."

France beat Scotland 8-3 and three weeks later won 12-8 in Dublin. They were beaten 3-0 in Paris by Wales in March and, in a bid for a share of the Five Nations title, lost 6-3 to a last-minute try by England at Twickenham in April.

Who is New Zealand's oldest surviving Test player? Colin Macdonald, Scotland

Sir Fred Allen, star of the 1945-46 NZ Army side (the "Kiwis"), captain of the All Blacks between 1946 and 1949 and top-rate coach who steered New Zealand through a purple patch in the late 1960s, was the oldest surviving player until his death, aged 92, last month. His team-mate on that famous "Kiwis" tour, Bob Scott, becomes the senior New Zealand Test rugby player.

To the best of knowledge the five oldest surviving All Blacks are:

Oldest Surviving All Blacks
Player NZ Career Date of Birth
Bob Scott 1946-54 February 6, 1921
Wally Argus 1946-47 May 29, 1921
Ron Elvidge 1946-50 March 2, 1923
Roy Roper 1949-50 August 11, 1923
Neville Black 1949 April 25, 1925

Please give a list in order of winning % for "current" world champions in Tests. (ie - from the first Test after they were crowned until another nation was crowned. Hayj, New Zealand

The success rates for reigning world champions between Rugby World Cups has fallen away since the All Blacks won nearly 89% of their Tests between succeeding at the 1987 inaugural event and finishing third in Britain in 1991.

The full list is as follows:

Success rates for reigning RWC holders
Reigning Champion Period P W D L Success Rate%
New Zealand 1987-91 30 26 1 3 88.33
Australia 1991-95 28 22 0 6 78.57
South Africa 1995-99 54 38 0 16 70.37
Australia 1999-03 45 29 1 15 65.55
England 2003-07 47 21 0 26 44.68
South Africa 2007-11 49 31 0 18 63.26

SR - success rate based on awarding two points for a win, one for a draw and none for a defeat.

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