Ask John
England's youngest prop pairing, pairs of brothers in the same Scottish side and the 1924 Lions
John Griffiths
March 15, 2010

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 England's youngest prop pairing, two pairs of brothers in the same Scottish side and the 1924 Lions.

I had read about an Irish international from, I believe, Rugby School, who won a cap while playing with only one hand, lost in a shooting accident. Now I cannot find the information. I think he was also a medical doctor. L Howe, Bermuda.

This would be Thomas Gisborne Gordon. He was born in 1851, educated at Rugby School (where he learned the game) and later played (mainly as a threequarter) for NIFC. He lost his right hand in a shooting accident but nevertheless played three times for Ireland in 1877 and 1878 as a half-back. He made his debut in the first-ever rugby international played between teams of 15-aside: England v Ireland at The Oval on February 5, 1877.

He died in 1935, aged 83. His obituary in the Rugby Football Annual described him as "keenly interested in horse racing and breeding horses." A wine merchant, he is believed to be the only man to have played Test rugby with only his left hand.

During the Italy-England game Worcester's Matt Mullan replaced Tim Payne and for a part of the game propped with Leicester's Dan Cole. Both were 22: are they the youngest pair of props ever fielded by England in a Test? Chris, Yorkshire

Dan Cole was 22 years, 281 days and Matt Mullan 22 years, 356 days on the Sunday of the Italy-England match - a mean age of 22 years, 318 days.

Back in 1963, when England beat Wales 13-6 at Cardiff Arms Park, their props were Nick Drake-Lee (Cambridge University & Leicester) and Bev Dovey (Rosslyn Park) - both new caps. At 20 years, 287 days on the date of that match Drake-Lee was England's youngest-ever prop while Dovey, a former Cambridge Blue, was 24 years, 87 days giving a mean age of 22 years, 187 days.

England's youngest prop since 1963 was Jason Leonard, who made his Test debut as loose-head against Argentina in 1990 in Buenos Aires, aged 21. His early Test career was played with Jeff Probyn, then well into his thirties, on the starboard side.

What was the score and who won the rugby match between New Zealand and Queen's University, Belfast on April 25, 1919? Philip Wheeler United Kingdom

After the Armistice in November 1918, troops serving with New Zealand units in Europe played a series of trial matches before two teams of New Zealand servicemen were selected to tour Britain, Ireland and France early in the 1918-19 season.

The so-called Divisional Team played a series of games in France while the United Kingdom Side decamped to Britain. The sides came together in mid-January 1919, effectively to play a "Final Trial" match at Richmond from which an official New Zealand Services tour side was selected.

The team broke into "A" and "B" XVs to undertake a series of 35 matches between January 25th and May 10th throughout England, Scotland and Wales with one match, against Queen's University, Belfast, taking place in Ireland.

The focus of the tour was the "King's Cup" - a trophy presented by HM King George V for a competition held among the service sides of the Mother Country (embracing the Imperial Forces and packed with past or future Five Nations internationals), the Royal Air Force and service sides representing Canadian, South African, Australian and New Zealand Forces. The New Zealanders won the series, later beat the French Army at Twickenham and went on to beat and a full Wales team (to whom caps were awarded) at Swansea on Easter Monday, 1919.

New Zealand records show the date of the sole game in Ireland was in late April, 1919, with the visitors beating Queen's 18-0. The same day, the other half of the tour party beat the United Services 20-7 at Salisbury.

During their match with Wales at Cardiff, Scotland had the Evanses and Lamonts playing. Have Scotland ever had two pairs of brothers in the same side before? Graham J, England

The last time Scotland had fielded two pairs of brothers in the same side in the Six Nations was in 2001 against England at Twickenham. Alan and Gordon Bulloch teamed up with John and Martin Leslie in a 43-3 defeat.

When Scotland faced New Zealand in the second Test at Auckland in 1990, their starting line-up included Kenny and Iain Milne in the front-row and Gavin and Scott Hastings in the backs. Moreover, the All Blacks fielded the Whetton (Alan and Gary) twins in their pack.

Back in 1961 the All Blacks had faced France in Auckland with Ian and Don Clarke and Stan and Colin Meads in their line-up while the French fielded the famous Boniface brothers in their back division.

In the old Five Nations Ireland had the unusual distinction of playing three pairs of brothers in their side against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in March 1924: the Stephensons (Harry and George) and the Hewitts (Frank and Tom) were in the back division with the Collopys (Dick and William) in their pack.

I am confused about the nature of an openside wing forward. In my day you packed down on the openside so you could quickly get to the opposing fly-half and also arrive at the break down as the first forward. In the line-out we would stand at the back so once again we could get to the out-half or cut off the scrum-half pass. Commentators often refer to the No. 7 as openside yet they are often filling the duties of a blindside. It is all confusing! Colin Windibank, England

Back-row duties arguably are more open to interpretation than those for any other unit on the field and are still evolving. In particular, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that the player wearing the No.7 jersey in an international match will perform the traditional openside duties.

It's true that all units evolve tactically - the play of the back-three (two wings and fullback) for instance was revolutionised in the late sixties and early seventies by the introduction of the Australian dispensation law restricting direct kicking to touch. But it is roughly true to say that each country expects its back-threes these days to carry out similar duties.

Likewise, front-row play, half-back play and second-row lock duties are roughly the same across the game's leading nations. Yet the duties of the No.6, No.7 and No.8 vary from country to country in the modern game. In Wales at the moment there is an interesting debate about the relative merits of Martyn Williams' style of play (as a constructive openside) and the style of play that might be required of his successor.

Richard Hill, Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back set a record for most appearances together as a back-row unit in Tests. Yet Sir Clive Woodward tended to interchange Hill and Dallaglio in such a way that each had spells wearing the No.8 shirt. Arguably the balance of the back-row has become more important to coaches these days rather than the specialist duties attaching to the shirt number.

South Africa and Australia often select players in the blindside and No.8 jerseys who can inter-change during a Test - watch them scrummage and sometimes the blindside will assume the No.8's traditional spot at the back of the scrum.

South Africa moreover have tended to pick "a #6 flanker" who practises out-and-out openside skills in broken play - the 'fetcher' Heinrich BrĂ¼ssow or Schalk Burger, for example.

In the 1960s, there was a trend to play flankers "left-and-right" - indeed, when the IRB laid down in 1966 its rules for the numbering of players in international matches no reference was made to blindside or openside. The back-row, it stated, should be numbered left to right, 6-8-7. Often France and some of the Continental countries (Romania, for example) still adhere to this policy, each of the flankers being able to perform blind and openside duties as necessary. As you say, it can be all very confusing.

As far as I can make out it was Dunlop (rather than Bill) Cunningham who toured South Africa with Great Britain in 1924 and scored the try in the third Test. At the time Bill Cunningham worked in South Africa as a dentist and played rugby there. The player who scored for the Lions in the third test was well known to Dublin rugby followers as he was a student at Trinity. Michael O' Dwyer, Ireland

Bill Cunningham, a half-back who had won eight Irish caps between 1920 and 1923 emigrated to Johannesburg in the summer of 1923. As you say, he was a dentist. Dunlop Cunningham, a director in the tobacco industry, was a forward who played six times in the Irish pack between 1923 and 1925.

Bill played his club rugby for Lansdowne. Dunlop was from Ulster where he played for NIFC. Neither, however, seems to be listed among the records of the Dublin University (Trinity) first fifteen.

The 1924 Lions in South Africa were greatly affected by injuries sustained on dry, hard grounds. The backs were particularly unlucky and Tom Voyce, the famous England flanker, was used as an emergency fullback, wing and centre on tour. Indeed, so desperate for reinforcements were the Lions' management that Bill Cunningham, whom the tourists met in Johannesburg, was co-opted to the tour party two-thirds of the way through the visit.

He played outside-half in the third Test at Port Elizabeth and Wisden's Rugby Football Almanack reported: "The tourists were the first to score, Cunningham, the former Irish half-back, getting over in the corner."

South Africa equalised soon afterwards and the match ended in a 3-3 draw. It was Bill Cunningham.s third and last appearance of the tour.


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