Ask John
The O'Donnells, the Springboks' Test record and England's worst run against the Tri-Nations
John Griffiths
November 23, 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 answers questions on the O'Donnells, the Springboks' Test series record, England's worst run against the Tri-Nations and the 2002 French Championship Final.

I remember reading somewhere - I think it was 'The NZ Rugby Almanack' - that 1884 original 'All Black' James O'Donnell, an interesting character, later went on to play rugby for Australia. On reading his profile at, there is no mention of this, although it is stated that he played for NSW against the 1888 British tourists. The only J. O'Donnell representing Australia in the early period played against the British tourists of 1899. Is this the same person? Or did the historians confuse the 1888 NSW team for the Australian national team? Stephen Coneglan South Korea
The J O'Donnell who played for New Zealand in 1884 is not the same player as the one who appeared in the fourth Test for Australia against the 1899 British/Irish side.

New Zealand historians have taken the utmost care to avoid connecting the two. James O'Donnell was born in Ireland in 1860, migrated to New Zealand as a youngster and settled in Christchurch where he was successively a policeman and a teacher before moving south to take up a teaching appointment at a Roman Catholic school in Invercargill.

His selection for the 1884 New Zealand tour of Australia caused uproar in his home town, where a number of his creditors feared that he would not return and would not honour his debts. He was actually intercepted by a bailiff on his way to Wellington to join the NZ team and brought back to Invercargill to appear before the regional magistrate. None of his creditors was present, however, and O'Donnell regained his liberty, setting off once again for Wellington.

"O'Donnell, the footballer, slipped through the fingers of his creditors," reported the Hawke's Bay Herald of May 17, adding "there is talk of issuing another warrant to bring him back [while] there is a strong feeling that the Rugby Union should take action by way of appointing a substitute [for him] on the Sydney team."

But the Union didn't take action. O'Donnell played in New Zealand's first-ever representative match (against a Wellington XV on May 22) and after the game set sail with the rest of the tour party for Sydney. He played six more games in the New Zealand shirt and subsequently settled in New South Wales where he represented them as a forward in several inter-state matches against Queensland. In 1888, aged 28, he featured in the second match played by the New South Wales team against the first-ever British/Irish side to tour overseas, before fading from the first-class scene.

He died in Sydney in 1942. A son, John Brook O'Donnell, appeared in the front-row for the 1928 NSW Waratahs touring side against New Zealand and the Maori in matches that were later upgraded to full Test status by the Australian Rugby Union.

John ("Jack") O'Donnell, who appeared for Australia as a forward against the 1899 British/Irish side, was a member of another well-known rugby-playing family. He and his brother Ignatius ("Iggy") were old boys of St Ignatius' College, Riverview, members of the city's famous Wallaroos Rugby Club and played together in the final Test of Australia's first-ever series with the Lions.

The Wallaroos club lost its status when Sydney club rugby was reorganised in 1900. Henceforth players were compelled to appear for their local district and the O'Donnells, residing in the catchment area for North Sydney (later re-branded as Northern Suburbs), became stalwarts of the new club.

Jack was plucked from relative obscurity to play in the 1899 Test against the Lions. He was a rookie in his early twenties and had never appeared in a state match when he packed down against the tourists. His state debut came the year later and he went on to make 25 appearances for New South Wales, including three against David Bedell-Sivright's British/Irish side in 1904. He captained both Norths and NSW, but never again appeared in a Test.

Jack O'Donnell died in 1956, aged 79.

I have a follow up to my query on composite teams in a previous feature. I noticed in various annuals (Rothmans and the recently-published IRB World Rugby Yearbook) that Hugo Porta features among the World records as an Argentina/South America Jaquars player. Should records do the same and include the Jaguars records in the overall world records?
Ryan Spencer, Wales
The political background to the first exchange of Springbok/Jaguar tours in 1980 - South Africa to South America in April and South America to South Africa in October - is interesting. Basically the exchanges were between the South African and Argentinean Rugby Unions, but the Argentine Government objected to their Rugby Union inter-acting with the apartheid regime in South Africa.

As a result of opposition to the visits from beyond rugby's national administrators, the Argentineans played under the name of "South America", called themselves "Jaguars" instead of "Pumas" and invited Chile, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay to each nominate one player for the tour squad.

When South Africa visited South America later in the year the Argentine government banned the Springboks from playing in Argentina. The tour was hastily rearranged for venues in Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay. Even so, the South American Jaguar sides in all four Tests in 1980 comprised exclusively Argentinean players under the captaincy of Hugo Porta.

In the two Tests in 1982 and the first Test of the 1984 series the Jaguars were again exclusively Argentineans, but a Spaniard (T Pardo) and Uruguayan (J Bird) featured in the Test pack for the final Test of 1984.

To all intents and purposes, then, the team played as "Argentina" in its eight Tests against SA between 1980 and 1984. Indeed, the UAR's official centenary publication (100 anos Union Argentina de Rugby: 1899-1999) includes the players who appeared in the Jaguars Tests among their list of caps.

So the sides were selected by the UAR, though for political reasons could not call themselves "Argentina". From the rugby point of view, then, the Jaguar side was raised by a recognised Union and for that reason now takes the view that their Tests should be included and has expanded its data-base accordingly.

Have South Africa lost more Test series in New Zealand than in their own country? Andrew, Ireland

South Africa's losing Test series at home were as follows:
1891 v British/Irish L 3-0
1896 v British/Irish L 1-3
1958 v France L 0-1 (one drawn)
1974 v British/Irish L 0-3 (one drawn)
1993 v France L 0-1 (one drawn)
1996 v New Zealand L 1-2
1997 v British/Irish L 1-2

South Africa's losing Test series in New Zealand were as follows:
1956 v New Zealand L 1-3
1965 v New Zealand L 1-3
1981 v New Zealand L 1-2
1994 v New Zealand L 0-2 (one drawn)

NB: Tri-Nations or World Cup Tests not counted as parts of series in the above details

Derek Quinnell beat the All Blacks playing for the Lions (1971 3rd Test & 1977 2nd Test), Llanelli (1972) and the Barbarians (1973) but not, I think, ever for Wales. Has any other player beaten the All Blacks playing for more teams? Bruce Craig, Scotland
Derek Quinnell is one of several English and Welsh players who appeared under three different team headings in wins against New Zealand, but he never featured in a winning Welsh national side - they haven't beaten the All Blacks since 1953.

The Home Unions record in this respect belongs to Fran Cotton. Like Quinnell he played in four wins against the men in black, but managed to do so wearing four different badges:
1972 (for North-Western Counties 16-14 at Workington);
1973 (for England 16-10 in Auckland)
1977 (for British/Irish Lions 13-9 in Christchurch)
1979 (for Northern Division 21-9 at Otley)

What is England's worst losing sequence against the Tri-Nations? Anon
Saturday's defeat by the All Blacks was England's eighth on the trot against Tri-Nations teams since the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final, equalling their worst-ever run established in the 1980s.

Since beating Australia 12-10 in Marseilles in the RWC quarter-finals, England's results against the three major southern hemisphere powers are as follows:
Oct 20, 2007 - L 6-15 South Africa
Jun 24, 2008 - L 20-37 New Zealand
Jun 21, 2008 - L 12-44 New Zealand
Nov 15, 2008 - L 14-28 Australia
Nov 22, 2008 - L 6-42 South Africa
Nov 29, 2008 - L 6-32 New Zealand
Nov 7, 2009 - L 9-18 Australia
Nov 21, 2009 - L 6-19 New Zealand

The record was originally set between 1984 and 1988 and ended with the appointment of Will Carling as captain for the 28-19 win against the Wallabies at Twickenham in November 1988.
Jun 2, 1984 L 15-33 South Africa
Jun 9, 1984 L 9-35 South Africa
Nov 3, 1984 L 3-19 Australia
Jun 1, 1985 L 13-18 New Zealand
Jun 8, 1985 L 15-42 New Zealand
May 23, 1987 L 6-19 Australia
May 29, 1988 L 16-22 Australia
Jun 12, 1988 L 8-28 Australia

Surely the Australian winger Joe Roff played for Biarritz when they won the French Championship in 2002 against Agen? David Stanley, England
He certainly did - he was omitted from an earlier answer relating to Australians who had appeared in French Championship Finals.

Biarritz beat Agen 25-22 after extra time in the Stade de France Final on June 8, 2002. Roff appeared in the centre and kicked 17 points in front of a crowd of 78,457. His fifth penalty, deep into extra time, squared the game at 22-all before a last-minute dropped goal by replacement Laurent Mazas - a former French international who continued to hold down a job as a full-time maths teacher in the professional rugby era despite appearing regularly for Biarritz - saved the Final from going to a penalty shoot-out.

The line-ups for that Final were as follows:

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bernat-Salles, J Roff, J Isaac, P Bidabé; J Peyrelongue, N Morlaes; E Menieu, J-M Gonzalez (captain), D Avril, J-P Versailles, O Roumat, S Betsen, T Lièvremont, C Milhères Substitutions: O Nauroy for Versailles; D Chouchan for Milhères, N Curnier for Avril; L Mazas for Morlaes; S Puleoto for Menieu; G Bousses for Isaac; S Legg for Bidabé Scorers Try: Bernat-Salles Conversion: Roff Penalty Goals: Roff (5) Dropped Goal: Mazas

Agen: C Lamaison; P Elhorga, C Stoltz, L Lafforgue, C Manas; F Gelez, M Barrau; J-J Crenca, J-B Rué, O Hasan-Jalil, D Couzinet, C Porcu, P Benetton (captain), T Labrousse, M Lièvremont Substitutions: G Bouic for Stoltz; M Barragué for Porcu; N Martin for Gelez.

Scorers Try: Barrau Conversion: Gelez Penalty Goals: Gelez (5)

Referee D Mené

The brothers Lièvremont, Thomas and Matthieu who were in the opposing back-rows, are younger siblings of Marc, the current French coach.


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