Ask John
Varsity match venues, uncapped Barbarians and Rugby World Cup referees
John Griffiths
December 7, 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 actor Richard Todd's father, Varsity Match venues, George Parsons and uncapped Barbarians.

Do you have any information about the game played on the September 3, 1963 between Roma and Harlequins? My father Giorgio Troncon played in that match.Giovanni Troncon, Italy
Harlequins beat O R Roma 16-14 in the first game of the Italian side's four-match tour to England and Wales. The match was staged on a Tuesday evening at Twickenham. The Roma side was an invitation XV made up of leading Italian players. (Giorgio Troncon is shown as a Treviso player at the time of this tour).

Quins opened the scoring when Bob Read, who had recently returned from England's first overseas tour (to New Zealand and Australia) launched his threequarter line on an attacking move that culminated in a try at the left corner for their wing, Eden. Roberto Martini levelled the scores minutes later with a penalty from the centre spot before John Young, the former England wing, scored for Harlequins.

The Daily Telegraph's reporter described Young's run as the move of the match, writing, "With a broken field … he went for the corner like an electric hare." John Willcox converted and Eden crossed twice more to give the home side a 16-3 lead - a massive advantage at a time when low-scoring was the norm and tries were valued at three points. Roma staged a thrilling recovery scoring two more tries before Elio Fusco dropped a late goal that sparked a frantic late Italian onslaught.

Harlequins: J G Willcox; J R C Young, J J McPartlin, R H Lloyd, H Eden; R F Read, J J Dougal; G C Murray, J L Bazalgette, D F B Wrench, C M Payne (captain), R B Marson, V R Marriott, A J Todman, S H Willcock

Scorers Tries: Eden (3), Young Conversions: Willcox (2)

O R Roma: F Perrini*; G M Del Bono*, G Troncon*, G Martini, V Ambron*; R Martini, E Fusco*; A Angioli*, L Avigo*, U Levorato* (captain), F Piccinini*, F Speziali, M Bollesan*, F Zani*, R Luise

Scorers Tries: Bollesan, Luise Conversion: Martini Penalty Goal: Martini Dropped Goal: Fusco

Referee: Mr M F Turner (London Society)

* indicates that the Roma player had appeared for Italy against France at Grenoble earlier in the year.

O R Roma tour to England & Wales 1963:
September 3 - Lost 14-16, v Harlequins
September 5 - Lost 0-12, v Swansea
September 7 - Drawn 8-8, v Newport
September 9 - Lost 3-6, v Stafford

Who refereed the first-ever Rugby World Cup match and which referees have controlled most matches in RWC tournament stages? Anon
The first RWC match took place on May 22, 1987 when New Zealand defeated Italy 70-6 at Eden Park, Auckland. That game was controlled by Bob Fordham of Australia.

All told there have been 233 matches in RWC Finals tournaments. The leading referees are:
Jim Fleming (Scotland) 12
Derek Bevan (Wales) 11
Chris White (England) 10
Paul Honiss (New Zealand) 9
Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa) 9
Alain Rolland (Ireland) 9

Jim Fleming's total includes an appearance as a replacement for his compatriot Brian Anderson for the second half of the 1991 pool match between Argentina and Western Samoa at Pontypridd.

The obituaries for the actor Richard Todd stated that his father had played rugby for Ireland. Is that true? Anon
Yes. Andrew William Palethorpe Todd played fullback in three consecutive Tests for Ireland - against Wales and France in 1913 and against France on New Year's Day, 1914. He was capped as a young medical student from Trinity College, Dublin and was on the winning side in his last two Tests. When he made his Test debut he was the third fullback Ireland had tried out in their first three matches of the 1913 Five Nations Championship. The Times rugby correspondent was muted in his opinions of Todd senior, writing: "Of the Irish fullback this much may be said - that he was not so weak as the other Irish fullbacks who have been played this year."

He must have played a brave game in the frost in Paris when Ireland won 8-6 in 1914, the same newspaper noting that he stopped the fierce rushes of the French forwards "with considerable skill and pluck." Dr Todd served as a major with the RAMC during the Great War and was awarded the Military Cross. The actor Richard Andrew Palethorpe Todd was born in Dublin in 1919 and was educated at Shrewsbury, the soccer-playing school his father had attended.

Where was the Varsity Match staged before Twickenham opened? Anon
Apart from the inaugural match at Oxford in 1872 and the return a year later at Cambridge, the official series has always been staged in the London area.

Seven games were played on Kennington Oval during the 1870s before it became a famous Test cricket venue. During the 1880s, three games were staged on Richardson's Field and four at Rectory Field (both in Blackheath). Richardson's Field was close to the Princess of Wales hostelry on the Heath and the pub was used as a changing room by the teams of the day.

Richardson's Field was acquired by a Building Society in the early 1880s and developed for housing, forcing the club to move to new premises at the Rectory Field on the Charlton Road in 1883-4. From 1887 to 1920 the Blues met at Queen's Club, Kensington before the fixture transferred to Twickenham in 1921.

The recent passing of the St Helens rugby league legend, George Parsons, was well-covered by the Lancashire sporting press. One report referred to the Welsh Rugby Union having him "removed from the squad to face France" before he went North. Can you provide further details? Anon
George Parsons was born in Newbridge on April 21, 1926 and died in Crickhowell last month. His early rugby career was as a forward with Abertillery, and as a teenager he appeared for Wales in two of the unofficial "Victory" internationals in 1946. When full internationals were resumed the year later he played lock in the Welsh XV that was defeated 9-6 by England at Cardiff. He was the youngest member of that first official Welsh post-war side but lost his place for the visit to Murrayfield the month later. Then, after omission from the side originally announced for the trip to Paris in late March, he was called into the squad in the week before the match with France when Llanelli's back-row forward Ossie Williams withdrew.

The official party for the match mustered in Cardiff before embarking on its journey to France. When their London train stopped at Newport, Parsons prepared to join the team with other members of the Gwent contingent chosen for the Welsh squad. But the train pulled away without Parsons aboard. He had just resigned from the Monmouthshire Police Constabulary and, having been the regular target of RL offers to turn professional in the past, was suspected of being on the brink of going North. The secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union, Captain Walter Rees, confronted Parsons as he was about to board the train and the upshot of a short conversation between the two men was that the young forward was told that his services would not be required. His Newport club colleague, Bob Evans, was drafted in to the Welsh back-row and made his debut in a 3-0 Welsh victory.

Parsons protested his innocence, telling the Western Mail, "A difficult situation has arisen as a result of my decision to leave the police force." He strongly denied that he had any intention of turning professional and his harsh treatment, it seems, might have been the result of circumstantial evidence and malicious rumours. Although he made a strong bid for further international honours the following season, playing a prominent part in the combined Abertillery/Cross-Keys pack that tested the touring Wallabies, Parsons never again played rugby union for Wales. In 1948, Captain Rees stood down as secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union (shortly after his 86th birthday) while Parsons finally turned professional, joining Saints.

I was wondering how many players picked as part of the Barbarian tradition of picking an uncapped player have gone on to become regulars for their country. Gareth Owen, England
Judging by the experiences of past uncapped Barbarians in matches against New Zealand, W P Nel (the only uncapped member of the side in Saturday's 25-18 win against the All Blacks) has a good chance of gaining full Test honours.

The uncapped members of the nine previous Baa-Baas sides against New Zealand were:
1954 - Bob Hawkes (never capped) & Ron Jacobs (England regular 1956-1964)
1964 - Colin Simpson (one cap for England in 1965) and Elwyn Jones (never capped)
1967 - There was no uncapped player in the Baa-Baas XV
1973 - Bob Wilkinson (England 1975-1976) and Tommy David (Wales 1973-1976)
1974 - John D Bevan (Wales 1975)
1978 - Elgan Rees* (Wales 1979-1983), Neil Hutchings & Bill Dickinson (never capped)
1989 - Tony Underwood (England regular 1992-1998)
1993 - Neil Back (England regular 1994-2003)**
2004 - There was no uncapped player in the Baa-Baas starting XV***

* Rees had played in a Test for the 1977 Lions before winning Welsh honours
** The then uncapped Rob Howley (Wales regular 1996-2002) and Christiaan Scholtz (SA 1994-1995) appeared as replacements for the Barbarians
*** The then uncapped Gary Botha (South Africa 2005 to 2007) appeared as a substitute

Perhaps the biggest impact made on their national selectors by uncapped Barbarians was in 1961 when the famous club side defeated Avril Malan's Springboks 6-0 at Cardiff. The two uncapped players were the Welshmen Brian Price and Haydn Mainwaring. Price cut such an impressive figure in the second-row against the much-vaunted Springbok pack that the Welsh selectors fast-tracked him into the Welsh side a month later for their match against Ireland. He went on to become a mainstay of the Welsh scrum until 1969. Mainwaring, after making two memorable tackles for the Barbarians, came into the Welsh side at centre for the visit to Paris later the same season.


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