Ask John
Home Unions against Tri Nations, NZ Maori's unbeaten run and leading Test players in Italy
John Griffiths
June 21, 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 Home Unions' records against Tri Nations opposition, NZ Maori's unbeaten run 1994-2001 and leading Test players who played in Italy.

How many Test matches did Home Unions lose on Tri-Nations soil between England's RWC win in Sydney in 2003 and their recent win there? S Jones, Wales

From November 2003 to June 2010 there were 28 away Tests played and lost by the individual Home Unions against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa:

12 June 2004 L 3-36 v New Zealand
19 June 2004 L 12-36 v New Zealand
26 June 2004 L 15-51 v Australia
11 June 2006 L 3-34 v Australia
17 June 2006 L 18-43 v Australia
26 May 2007 L 10-58 v South Africa
2 June 2007 L 22-55 v South Africa
14 June 2008 L 20-37 v New Zealand
21 June 2008 L 12-44 v New Zealand
12 June 2010 L 17-27 v Australia

13 June 2004 L 15-35 v Australia
19 June 2004 L 13-34 v Australia
10 June 2006 L 16-36 v South Africa
17 June 2006 L 15-29 v South Africa

Scotland' s last away win against a Tri-Nations side was 12-7 v Australia at Brisbane in 1982

12 June 2004 L 17-31 v South Africa
19 June 2004 L 17-26 v South Africa
10 June 2006 L 23-34 v New Zealand
17 June 2006 L 17-27 v New Zealand
24 June 2006 L 15-37 v Australia
7 June 2008 L 11-21 v New Zealand
14 June 2006 L 12-18 v Australia
12 June 2010 L 28-66 v New Zealand

Their last away win against a Tri-Nations side was 9-3 v Australia in Sydney in 1979

26 June 2004 L 18-53 v South Africa
26 May 2007 L 23-29 v Australia
2 June 2007 L 0-31 v Australia
7 June 2008 L 17-43 v South Africa
14 June 2008 L 21-37 v South Africa
19 June 2010 L 9-42 v New Zealand

Their last away win against a Tri-Nations side was 22-21 v Australia in Rotorua (NZ) in the 1987 RWC 3rd/4th place- play-off.

Scotland recently completed a run of three away Test wins. When was the last time they achieved this feat? AR, Scotland

The recent away wins against Ireland and Argentina (twice) brought Scotland their first trio of Test wins on the road since 1983-84.

They achieved a rare 22-12 Twickenham win in the final match of the 1983 Five Nations and the next season beat Wales 15-9 at Cardiff and Ireland 32-9 in Dublin during a Grand Slam season.

When did the TMO make its international bow in rugby? GJ, England

Ten years ago, in 2000. The TMO was used in that year's Super 12 and brought in for Tests from June 2000. Steve Lander was the first Test referee to call on the TMO, during the NZ v Tonga Test at Albany when the All Blacks were already 55-0 up. Steve Walsh of New Zealand was the TMO and gave the all clear for a try to be awarded to New Zealand skipper Todd Blackadder.

Arguably the most controversial TMO decision was the ruling that deprived Mark Cueto a try for England in the last RWC Final against South Africa in Paris.

In Scrum's recent feature on the Maori, their wins against England and Scotland in 1998 were mentioned. I believe the Maori were unbeaten for a long period at this time - do you have the details? Anon

The Maori enjoyed a 21-match invincible run between 1994 and 2001. Their results were:

v Mid Canterbury Won 58-13
v FIJI Won 34-3

v King Country Won 44-28
v Waikato Won 60-22

v Bay of Plenty Won 48-28
v FIJI Won 25-10
v Tongan Barbarians Won 26-19
v TONGA Won 29-20

v Ireland A Won 41-10
v ARGENTINA Won 39-17
v Western Samoan XV Won 40-8

v TONGA Won 66-7
v ENGLAND Won 62-14
v Edinburgh District Won 69-3
v SCOTLAND Won 24-8
v Glasgow District Won 53-15

v Fijian XV Won 20-10
v FIJI Won 57-20

v SCOTLAND Won 18-15

The run ended in their opening game of 2001, beaten 41-29 by a Test-strength Australia in Sydney.

I believe Naas Botha played many seasons in Italy. Do you have his record and that of any other leading players who featured in the Italian domestic competition? Graham, England

Naas Botha played for Rovigo in the Italian Championship (Serie A1) from 1987 to 1993. He collected winner's medals with the club in 1988 and 1990. International players capped by the Tri-Nations who had long careers (ie five or more years) in the Championship were:

David Campese - 1984-1993 (with Petrarca and later Milan)
Julian Gardner - 1989-1998 (with Brescia, Rovigo, Roma and Treviso)
David Knox - 1986-1994 (with Petrarca, Livorno, Bergamo and Paganica)
Michael Lynagh - 1991-1996 (with Treviso)

New Zealand
John Kirwan - 1985-1993 (with Treviso and Thiene)

South Africa
Naas Botha - 1987-1993 (with Rovigo)
Jannie Breedt 1988-1999 (with Catania)
Adri Geldenhuys - 1994-1999 (with Roma)
Rob Louw - 1980-1985 (with L'Aquila)
Hugh Reece-Edwards - 1982-1988 (with Noceto)
Gert Smal - 1985-1990 (with Rovigo)
Franco Smith - 1994-2005 (with Modena, Bologna and Treviso)
Nico Wegner - 1992-2000 (with Parma, Reggio Emilia and Gran Parma)

John Kirwan later coached the Italian national side while their current coach, Nick Mallet, also had a spell in Italian rugby (with Rovigo in 1992-93).

You missed the obvious answer when answering about rookie Test front rows: don't forget the first ever international - nobody had any caps. Dick Pearson, England.

Well no, actually: it's not quite that simple. Rugby was a very different game when Tests began in 1871 and has gradually evolved to its current format.

It was originally played between teams of 20-aside with usually 13 forwards and seven backs. There was no definition for a scrum as a means of restarting the game then - scrums bore no resemblance to the organised contests between packs of eight that are seen today. Rather, they were protracted, tightly-knit formations that developed when the ball was "put down" in general play, more akin to the modern-day ruck. Players aimed to drive the ball forward either by pushing their opponents off the ball or kicking it through.

Hooking and heeling as a means of securing the ball did not evolve until the late nineteenth century, by which time numbers had been reduced to 15-aside - nine forwards and only six backs. The scrum, moreover, had become a formal device for restarting the match after a breakdown in play or a minor offence such as a knock-on.

It wasn't until the 1930s that the Laws of the game finally established that the front-row should comprise three players (as it normally did by then in the Five Nations). New Zealand rugby had evolved with a two-man front-row and elsewhere there had even been experiments involving four men in the front-row.

Forwards, however, were not universally picked for their abilities to perform specialist duties at scrums. They were usually selected for their all-round forward skills - pushing, jumping and dribbling, which was a highly-prized art up to the outbreak of World War Two. Up to the period between the wars it was common in the Home Unions for the first three forwards arriving for a scrum to form the front-row - "first up, first down".

It was not until their 1923 match with Wales, for instance, that England allocated fixed pack positions in the scrum, but even then the forwards were picked primarily for their all-round skills. The fixed positions were allocated after the pack was selected.

The driving force for specialisation was their pack-leader, Wavell Wakefield, and for the first time the England scrum had the same players form the front-row in an entire match. Even so, there was less front-row specialisation then than today. The distinction that a prop specialises as a loose-head or tight-head is a subtlety of scrum-play that has only developed since World War Two.


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