Ask John
Effects of the five-point try, voting rights on the IRB Council and the youngest Test debutant
John Griffiths
April 12, 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 the fffects of the five-point try, voting rights on the IRB Council and the youngest player on debut.

The whole purpose of upgrading tries from three points to four points and then five points was to encourage more tries per game and rely less on penalties. Is there any evidence that we see more tries in internationals in the five point era compared to the three point era? It is my impression we do not. Brian Jones, Australia

This isn't an easy hypothesis to test. When New Zealand play Samoa or Portugal, or indeed when any higher-ranked nation plays a considerably lower-ranked side then of course tries will dominate the scoring.

Close matches however, particularly in knockout competitions or where a title is at stake, often seem to be decided by goal kicks - ie, the winners are unable to score more tries than the losers. Three of the four Rugby World Cup Finals since the try was upgraded to five points have been won by goal kicks rather than a majority of tries (those of 1995, 2003 and 2007).

In last year's knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, only two of the seven games were won by the team scoring more tries. (Munster beat the Ospreys 43-9 in a quarter-final and lost to Leinster 25-6 in a semi-final - important games but neither of which could be classed as a close match.)

More recently, France beat England without scoring a try to win the Six Nations Grand Slam title, while in the quarter-finals of this year's Heineken Cup the two close matches ended in wins for the sides scoring fewer tries. Both Leinster and Biarritz won 29-28 but managed only two tries to their opponents' three.

It is certainly true to conclude that the upgrading of the try from four to five points has had little influence on the actual results of matches in the Five Nations/Six Nations Championship.

There have been 235 matches in the Championship since the five-point try was introduced in 1992. Trawling through the results, only seven matches would have produced a different outcome under the previous scoring values:

1993: Wales 10-9 England - would have been a 9-9 draw under the four-point try
1994: England 12-13 Ireland - would have been a 12-12 draw under the four-point try
1995: No match affected
1996: No match affected
1997: No match affected
1998: No match affected
1999: Ireland 9-10 France - would have been a 9-9 draw under the four-point try
2000: France 25-27 Ireland - would have been a 24-24 draw under the four-point try
2001: Scotland 28-28 Wales - would have been a 27-25 win for Wales under the four-point try
2002: No match affected
2003: No match affected
2004: No match affected
2005: No match affected
2006: No match affected
2007: Scotland 18-19 Ireland - would have been an 18-18 draw under the four-point try
2008: No match affected
2009: Wales 15-17 Ireland - would have been a 15-15 draw under the four-point try
2010: No match affected

I would like to know what the IRB's rules state regarding serving officials. I am particularly referring to Billy Beaumont's role on the successful England bid team for the 2015 RWC while at the same time serving as the IRB vice chairman. Wayne, South Africa

There was no conflict of interest because the Vice Chairman of the IRB Council has no voting powers at Council Meetings.

The relevant IRB bye-law is 9.7 (c) which states: "The Chairman shall only have a casting vote at any Council Meeting. The Vice-Chairman shall not have a vote at any Council Meeting."

The Council has 26 voting members who convene under two officers of the Council, the Chairman (Bernard Lapasset) and Vice Chairman (Bill Beaumont).

The Council members comprise representatives of eight Unions with two votes each (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia), four Unions with one vote each (Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan) and the IRB's six regional Associations (Africa, Asia, North America & the Caribbean, South America, Oceania and Europe) also with one vote each. (England's two representatives are Martyn Thomas and Jonathan Dance.)

In May 2009, England, South Africa, Italy and Japan submitted RWC tenders and made presentations to the IRB Council. The RWC Limited Board then reviewed the tenders before recommending England as the Host Union for 2015 and Japan for 2019.

The final decision was made by the IRB's Council at their meeting in Dublin last July, when the 26 members voted 16-10 in favour of England and Japan.

Who was the youngest-ever international capped player? Chris, Wales

Dates of birth for every Test player are not available, but among the eight founder unions of the International Board - England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - two Scots appear to share the record for youngest cap in major Tests. Ninian Finlay (against England in 1875) and Charles ("Hippo") Reid (against Ireland in 1881) were each aged 17 years and 36 days on debut.

The purists argue that Finlay should be shown as younger than Reid (by a day in fact) for the reason that not all years are of equal length.

Finlay was born on 31st January 1858 and entered Test rugby as a threequarter on the 8th March 1875 … having lived through four leap-days (February 29th) in 1860, 1864, 1868 and 1872 before winning his cap.

Reid's date of birth is given as 14th January 1864 and he appeared as a forward for his first Test on 19th February 1881 … having lived through five leap-days in 1864, 1868, 1872, 1876 and 1880.

The youngest player in the Five/Six Nations Championship was Ireland's Frank Hewitt, who played fly-half in a 13-10 win against Wales at Cardiff in 1924. He was only 17 years, 157 days and scored a try on his debut.

Who was the youngest Welsh player to score a Test try on debut? John Jenkins, Wales

The Cardiff wing Tom Pearson was the youngest player to score a try on debut for Wales. He was 18 years, 238 days when he crossed for Wales against England at Rodney Parade, Newport, in January 1891.

Keith Jarrett was also 18, but a couple of months older than Pearson, when he made his memorable debut as fullback scoring a try, five conversions and two penalties against England at Cardiff in 1967.

The youngest forward to score on his Welsh debut was Tom Baker Jones of Newport who was aged 19 years, 134 days when he crossed against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in 1882.

I played rugby for five years and have enjoyed watching it for twelve. Something baffled me about two years ago, and as yet no-one has been able to explain it to me. When the ball is cleared say from inside the 22 metre line, and it crosses the touch line, why can it be tapped back into play without a throw in? (ie. the ball hasn't gone dead). Why do touch judges seem to come back for a throw in where it crosses the line and not where it lands when it isn't knocked back into play? Marc Hancock, England

The Laws used to rule that the ball was in touch if it landed on the touch-line or simply crossed it. A note to the (old) law emphasised: "If the ball crosses a touch line and is then blown back it is in touch at the place where it first crossed the line."

When the Australian Dispensation law restricting direct kicking to touch came into force in 1968, the lineout after finding touch directly from outside the 22 became the place on the touchline next to where the ball was kicked.

Then, about thirty years ago the law was subtly amended and touch was not awarded unless the ball pitched on or beyond the touchline (or struck a player on or beyond the touchline). Even so, the point where the ball crossed the line still marked the position for the lineout (unless kicked from outside the 22).

Those who were playing fullback at the time the law changed might remember the calls of their coaches to "Beware the swirling ball." The amendment meant that on windy days a high ball crossing the touchline and then blowing back into the field of play before pitching was still in play.

The laws now state that, for as long as a player has both feet in the field of play when taking or deflecting a ball that has crossed the touchline but not yet pitched, the ball is still in play (provided the deflection does not propel the ball forward). Moreover, if the player jumps to catch or deflect a kick into the field of play, it is not touch as long as the jumper lands with both feet in the field of play. Again, any deflection must not propel the ball forward.

When touch is found directly from a kick made in general play from inside the 22, and the ball hasn't previously been laid back from outside the 22 by the kicker's team, the place indicated for a lineout will be the point where the ball first crosses the touchline.

For a quick throw-in, however, the laws allow the lineout to be taken from anywhere on the touchline between that point and the thrower's goal-line. That's why play sometimes restarts from the point where the ball was caught or pitched in touch.

Which country has had the most New Zealanders represent them apart from New Zealand? Henry Cripps, England

New Zealanders have appeared for more different countries in Tests than players originating from anywhere else in the world.

Approximately 500 who could have qualified to play for the All Blacks have appeared for other nations in Tests. The teams that have benefited most, not surprisingly, are the Pacific Islands.

More than 100 players who would have been eligible to play for New Zealand have played Test rugby for Samoa and more than sixty have done so for Tonga.


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