Ask John
Scotland's oldest international, capped for three countries and water breaks
John Griffiths
August 31, 2009

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 fields questions on the oldest Scotland international, players capped for three countries and those rare occasions when internationals swap the front-row for the back-row.

Q.After the death of 'Mac" Henderson, who is now the oldest surviving Scots international rugby union player? Is anyone left who played pre-World War 2, I wonder? Colin McKinnon, Australia

A.James McLaren ("Mac") Henderson, who died in March aged 101, won three caps from the Edinburgh Academicals club as a forward in the Scotland team that won the Triple Crown in 1933.

At the time of "Mac's" death, Allan Roy, the former Waterloo forward, became Scotland's oldest surviving player. Now in his 99th year, he was born on 13th May, 1911 and won six caps for Scotland in 1938 and 1939. He, too, appeared in a Scotland Triple Crown-winning side, being an ever-present in the second-row in 1938 when the Scots beat Wales 8-6 at Murrayfield, Ireland 23-14 at Murrayfield and England 21-16 in a pulsating match at Twickenham. The England game, forever referred to as "Wilson Shaw's match" on account of the two thrilling tries scored by Scotland's captain that day, was the first rugby international ever televised.

Scotland went from heroes to zeros in 1939, losing all three matches. Allan Roy was joined in that losing side in the last season before the war by John ("Donnie") Innes who is believed to be the only other pre-World War II Scottish internationalist still alive.

Q.Has anyone played international rugby union for three countries? Topo, Australia

A.There have been several instances of players appearing for two countries in official Tests but "Topo", alias the great Argentinean prop Enrique Edgardo Rodriguez, confirms that he played international rugby for three countries, a record which is believed to be unique.

He was Argentina's prop in 13 Tests between 1979 and 1983 before migrating to Australia. Then, in his adopted country he went on to gain another 26 caps as a Wallaby between 1984 and 1987.

His Tests included appearances in all four Tests of Australia's Grand Slam tour of the Home Unions in 1984 when he formed with Tom Lawton and Andy McIntyre the formidable Wallaby front-row that stunned the crowd at Cardiff by shoving the Welsh scrum over their own goal-line for a pushover try. He also featured in the inaugural Rugby World Cup (1987) when the Wallabies finished fourth.

"Topo" additionally won a cap for Tahiti against France on 13th July 1981 in Papeete during France's summer tour down under (though France do not recognise this match as carrying Test status). He was also a regular member of the first "Jaguars" Test side - a Lions-type combination that represented South America in the early 1980s - making four Test appearances for them against South Africa in 1980.

The only man who appeared in international matches for two Home Unions was Dr James Marsh. As a medical student at Edinburgh University he played twice as a threequarter for Scotland in 1889 before settling in general practice in the Manchester area. There he turned out for the Swinton club and in 1892 played for England against Ireland.

Q.A lot of international forwards have moved from the back row to the front row. Have any Test forwards moved successfully from the front to the back row? Benjamin Saunders, England

A.It is rare for an international forward first-capped in the front-row to move back through the scrum and win many later caps in the back-row, though not unknown.

One of the best examples of such versatility was John Kendall-Carpenter, the Oxford University and England forward of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

He won his first two Blues as a prop in 1948 and 1949 and was capped by his country in the front-row in between. After three more caps at prop in 1950 he stepped back to the No 8 position for the 1950 Calcutta Cup match and captained Oxford from the back of the scrum in the Varsity Match later the same year. Thereafter he was England's regular No 8 for four more seasons, winning the last of his 23 caps in 1954. All told he played five times as prop and 18 as No 8.

Several other props/hookers have filled in as makeshift back-rowers after establishing themselves as Test front-rowers, the most recent case being Steve Thompson, England's 2003 World Cup hooker who made a cameo appearance as a flanker in the recent Test against Argentina at Manchester.

Q.Watching ESPN's coverage of the opening weeks of the French Top 14, it was surprising to see the game broken into quarters by the introduction of cricket-type "drinks intervals". Is this a new innovation? Anon

A.Water breaks were introduced in the Top 14 last season. They are used only in August, at the request of either captain and there can be only one break, which must not exceed ten minutes, in each half. The clock, of course, is stopped while the players take on water.

It is a sensible rule when players, especially in the south of the country, play in temperatures exceeding 30┬░C at this time of the year.

The only Test match that was split into four 20-minute quarters took place between New Zealand and Australia in windy Wellington in 1913. Conditions were so wet and cold that referee Len Simpson hit on the novel idea of breaking the game into four parts, the teams actually swapping ends for each quarter after reviving themselves with hot broth and a change of kit.

There was a less structured break in the 1957 Wales-Ireland international played in awful conditions at Cardiff. So uniformly muddy had the teams' jerseys become that referee Jack Taylor from Scotland found distinguishing the sides impossible in the second half. Ireland led 5-3 when he offered both sides the opportunity of a change of kit. The entire Welsh side went to the changing rooms but the Irishmen elected to hang around in the perishing conditions on the field.

When play resumed Wales went on to take a 6-5 lead that they never relinquished. The next season the International Board ruled that teams in international matches could not leave the field at any time between kick-off and no-side.

Q.Which Springbok rugby players scored the last 3-point try, the first 4-point try, the last 4-point try and the first 5-point try in Tests, with dates and opposition if possible? Gustaf Cilliers, South Africa


First three-point try - T A Samuels v Lions - Johannesburg. August 22, 1896
Last three-point try - J H Ellis v Australia - Sydney, August 7, 1971
First four-point try - P A Cronje v Lions - Johannesburg, July 27, 1974
Last four-point try - M J du Plessis v World XV - Johannesburg, September 2, 1989
First five-point try - D M Gerber v New Zealand - Johannesburg, August 15, 1992

Q.Is the Top 14 older than the Currie Cup? I heard the Top 14/French Championship is the older tournament and that Racing, Paris is the oldest club in the world. Brad, South Africa

A.The first French Championship was decided at the Bagatelle in Paris's Bois de Boulogne on 20th March, 1892. Racing (then known as Racing Club de France) defeated Stade Fran├žais 4-3. Stade beat Racing 7-3 in the following year's final.

Racing and Stade are the oldest surviving senior clubs in France, but not the oldest in the world.

Rugby had arrived in France in the early 1870s and the Racing Club de France club was formally founded on 20th April, 1882, but it wasn't until 1891 that the first senior inter-club match took place (Stade - founded 1888 - beating Racing by three points to nil).

Competitive rugby among the South African provinces dates from 1889 when the South African Rugby Board (SARB) was founded. Their inaugural competition, known as the "Board Tournament," was staged in Kimberley that year and won by Western Province.

When the 1891 Lions set off for South Africa from Southampton aboard the Dunottar Castle, Donald (later Sir Donald) Currie, the head of the Castle Shipping Line, gave the tourists a handsome cup to present to their best opponents. The honour fell to the Griqualand West side that held the Lions to a 3-0 score-line at Kimberley in the fifth match of the tour.

The Griqualand West Union in turn presented the "Currie Cup" to the SARB shortly after the tourists departed and the Board Tournament was renamed the Currie Cup with effect from 1892, when the competition was staged for the second time and again won by Western Province.

Whereas the French Championship was always played annually (excluding wartime), the early Currie Cup competitions took place over irregular intervals ranging from one to five years. Annual finals began in 1968.


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