England's HQ celebrates magical milestone
February 5, 2010
The greatest rugby stadium in the world? England's HQ - Twickenham © Getty Images
Rob Andrew Neil Back Mike Catt Mark Cueto Lawrence Dallaglio Paul Grayson Jerry Guscott Richard Hill Jason Leonard Ronan O'Gara Rory Underwood Jonny Wilkinson JPR Williams
Twickenham celebrates its international centenary when England play Wales on Saturday and the focus of historic recall will inevitably be on that first ever clash in 1910, highlighted by England's first-minute try, Bert Solomon's brilliant solo score in his only Test and the end of Wales's 12-year unbeaten run in the fixture. But that remarkable match was not a one-off - it inaugurated a number of Twickenham trends which survive to this day.
One is that Wales matches in years ending in zero tend to be pretty memorable. The 1920 and 1930 matches were played in Wales, and there was of course no meeting in 1940 but 1950 saw Wales winning at Twickenham for only the second time, a brilliant display by 18 year old fullback Lewis Jones triggering a run to their first Grand Slam since their Golden Age. The 1960 match is remembered for Richard Sharp's dazzling debut at outside-half for England, 1970 for Chico Hopkins' brilliant match-winning cameo for Wales and 1980 for the sending-off of Paul Ringer, Wales's subsequent defensive heroics and Dusty Hare's late penalty to win a horrifyingly violent match.
Ten years after that a devastating England display sent Wales towards their first ever Championship whitewash and if the 2000 contest seems by comparison routine, one of a series of summary executions administered to Wales around the turn of the century, it is doubtless fondly remembered by the great England back row of Richard Hill, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio, each of whom scored a try.
Those who have been counting will note that that makes six England victories to two by Wales. That's in fitting with another trend - that England win championship matches at Twickenham three times as often as they lose, with 117 victories to 38 defeats over that century of action. It has staged more matches than any other championship venue over that period, with the trip to Welford Road, Leicester for the 1923 clash with Ireland - where England won 23-5, but a 20,000 crowd was insufficient to persuade the Rugby Football Union to repeat the experiment - the only one of England's 177 home championship games since 1910 played anywhere else. Murrayfield, inaugurated in 1925, is next with 156 matches while Lansdowne Road has staged 147.
Twickenham can claim over that period to have been Europe's most forbidding international venue. England's success rate there in championship matches over that time has been 72.44%. It is marginally headed on percentage by France's record at the Stade de France (75.86%) and Wales's at St Helen's, Swansea (72.58%). But that French record at the Stade is heavily weighted by five victories over Italy.
Nor has any ground been so uniformly inhospitable to visitors. As early as 1912 a Welsh observer felt there was something in the atmosphere 'uncongenial to the Celtic temperament'. He might have added Latins as well. England have a better than two to one edge in victories over each visitor, with Wales's 12 wins against 25 losses the best any of them can manage and Scotland's four wins in 44 visits one of the most sustained jinxes in rugby history.
Elsewhere Wales have won as many times as they have lost at the Stade and Scotland had parity, four wins apiece, with Wales at St Helen's. The place the Celts found really scary was the Parc des Princes, each of them winning only three times in 15 visits, but England claimed seven plus a draw against six defeats.
Championship records at Twickenham are inevitably heavily weighted towards English players, who have four (and since 2000 five) times as many opportunities to play there as any visitor. Rory Underwood and Jason Leonard share the distinction of playing 26 championship matches there, Underwood shading it because he started each of his. Leonard has most wins - 24 - while Underwood's 10 is the highest number of tries. Mark Cueto is joint third among the try-scorers with seven in eight championship matches at Twickenham.
Mike Catt and Jeremy Guscott both had 100% winning records from 16 appearances. No prizes for guessing the highest points scorer - Jonny Wilkinson with 289 points, while Paul Grayson (115) and Rob Andrew (111) top the century mark. The top visitor is Ronan O'Gara (37). Andrew has however dropped most goals, with five to Wilkinson's four, reflecting that England rarely needed drops to get the scoreboard rolling during Jonny's best years.
An Englishman is also the most defeated player at Twickenham, with Leicester hooker Peter Wheeler walking off a loser in 10 of his 19 championship appearances. There's a rare visiting challenge in this category, with durable Welsh lock Gareth Llewellyn a loser on each of his seven trips to Twickenham.
At the other end of the scale is his compatriot J.P.R. Williams. Only four visitors have won as many as four times at Twickenham - a litany of the truly great with JPR accompanied by Jean-Pierre Rives, Gareth Edwards and Mike Gibson, whose eight visits are a record. JPR is the only one of them with a 100% winning record and he also scored four tries - a mark for visitors matched only by Wilson Shaw, Scotland's star of the epic 1938 Calcutta Cup match, who claimed his quartet in three matches. JPR didn't even like playing at Twickenham, complaining - in yet another echo dating back to 1910 - about the length of the grass. Just imagine what he might have achieved if he'd felt comfortable there.