Ask John
The players with the most Test wins, Welshmen in Italy and the conversion kick
John Griffiths
August 2, 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 players with the most Test wins, Welsh players in Italy, the conversion kick and provincial representation in All Black Teams.

I read after the second All Blacks Tri-Nations win against South Africa that Richie McCaw had set a new All Black record in winning his 75th Test as a player. I'm interested to know who holds the all time record and what that record is? Philip.J.Fry, New Zealand

He overtook Sean Fitzpatrick's New Zealand record and played in his 76th winning Test against Australia in Melbourne on July 31. The top twelve Test winners (up to August 1 2010) are as follows:

George Gregan - Australia - 93 (66.91%)
Jason Leonard - England/Lions - 89 (74.79%)
Fabien Pelous - France - 79 (66.95%)
Richie McCaw - New Zealand - 76 (88.37%)
Sean Fitzpatrick - New Zealand - 74 (80.43%)
Mils Muliaina - New Zealand - 72 (83.72%)
Martin Johnson - England/Lions - 71 (77.17%)
Philippe Sella - France - 70 (63.06%)
Stephen Larkham - Australia - 68 (66.67%)
David Campese - Australia - 67 (66.34%)
Percy Montgomery - South Africa - 67 (65.69%)
Brian O'Driscoll - Ireland/Lions - 67 (61.47%)

The three All Blacks are the only ones in the top twelve with win percentages exceeding 80%.

You mentioned Tri-Nations players plying their trade in Italy in a recent Ask John. What about the swarm of first-class Welsh players that went to Italy in the 70s & 80s, do you have a list of them? Kerry Phillips, Scotland

The point about the Tri-Nations players was that they enrolled with Italian clubs for complete seasons, their own southern hemisphere commitments allowing them that opportunity. Many of the Welshmen from the early 70s who appeared in Italy often did so for short periods of time, some just nipping over for Sunday games when their club commitments at home allowed. The Italian season of course coincided more or less with the Welsh club season.

In the mid-1970s an Italian club placed an advertisement in the Western Mail for players, offering jobs as accountants or labourers with an Italian firm near Venice. It was reported that 40 interested Welshmen responded immediately.

Adverse publicity followed and the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) became unhappy with allegations of veiled professionalism. They took steps to regulate the movement of players into Italy, mirroring a similar move made by the French Federation a couple of years earlier to insist that all foreign players required a special licence to play.

In November 1975 the WRU secretary, Bill Clement, was able to give full details of the registration requirements. Players needed a written invitation from the FIR and approval from the WRU before the special licence was issued.

The following list is probably not exhaustive, but from Italian club records these Welshmen are listed as having appeared in the top flight of their club game during the 1970s and 1980s. (Most clubs only supplied players' surnames - not all given names or even initials are available).

Kevin Bowring - Torino - 1975-76
Clive Burgess - Brescia - 1973-74; 1983-85
Cartwright - Parma - 1972-73
Barry Clegg - Bologna - 1971-72
Terry Cobner - Bologna - 1971-72
Gordon Collins - Brescia - 1974-76
David Cornwall - Bologna - 1971-72; Brescia 1973-75; 1976-77; Milan 1978-79 and Brescia 1981-82
Carl Dennehy - Brescia - 1988-89
John Drinkwater - Parma - 1969-70
Tony Haines - Parma - 1969-71
Alan Hourahine - Brescia - 1973-75
Keith James - Brescia - 1976-77
D Jones - Torino - 1976-77
Michael Lewis - Lazio - 1984-85
David Llewellyn - Torino - 1977-78
Miller - L'Aquila - 1974-75
Tony Mogridge - Bologna - 1971-72
Morris - Bologna - 1971-72
John Powell-Rees - L'Aquila - 1972-74
Prosser - Rovigo - 1972-74
Rees - Bologna - 1971-72
Taylor - Bologna - 1971-72
Thomas - Bologna - 1971-72
Bernard Thomas - Rovigo - 1975-77
Thornton - Torino - 1976-78
Waskett - Torino - 1975-76
John Welch - Rovigo - 1971-74
David Williams - Parma - 1969-70; Bologna 1971-72
K Williams - Noceto - 1981-82
Robin Williams - Brescia - 1975-76; 1977-80
T Williams - Parma - 1972-73

Can you confirm whether, in the 2010 Bledisloe Cup opener, Drew Mitchell became the first player a) to be dismissed in a Bledisloe Cup Test, b) to be sent off playing for Australia in a Test; and c) to be sent off in a Test on the technicality of receiving two yellow cards? Anon, Australia

He is the first man dismissed during a Bledisloe Cup match and only the second Aussie to be sent off in a Test. David Codey was sent off by England's Fred Howard early on in the third/fourth place play-off match between Australia and Wales at Rotorua in the penultimate match of the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

Mitchell follows Percy Montgomery in receiving a red card for a second yellow offence. Montgomery was twice carded for dangerous tackles by Stuart Dickinson during the Wales - South Africa Test in Cardiff in 2005, thereby earning a red card and sending-off.

Eleven provinces were represented in the All Blacks team (including subs) for the second Tri-Nations Test against South Africa this year. Is that the record for the most provinces represented in a single All Blacks Test team? What about in a single All Blacks starting XV? The most I could find for the latter was 10 provinces in the third Test v Australia in 1938. Paul Johns, New Zealand

Given Canterbury and Auckland's recent dominance of New Zealand domestic rugby it is a remarkable statistic, but surprisingly not a record. The New Zealand Test sides of the late 1960s which, under Fred Allen's coaching, created a world record of 17 consecutive wins, were often drawn from even wider provincial representation.

There were thirteen different provinces - Canterbury and Hawke's Bay were the only ones with two players - involved in the 33-12 second Test victory over Wales at Auckland in 1969 when the side was:

Fergie McCormick (Canterbury); Malcolm Dick (Auckland), Bill Davis (Hawke's Bay), Ian McRae (Hawke's Bay), George Skudder (Waikato); Earle Kirton (Otago), Sid Going (North Auckland); Brian Lochore (Wairarapa, capt), Tom Lister (South Canterbury), Ian Kirkpatrick (Poverty Bay), Colin Meads (King Country), Alan Smith (Taranaki), Alister Hopkinson (Canterbury), Bruce McLeod (Counties), Ken Gray (Wellington)

A fortnight earlier there had been a dozen provinces represented in the first Test, where Grahame Thorne (Auckland) and Brian Muller (Taranaki) had been involved instead of Skudder and Hopkinson respectively. Twelve provinces were represented earlier in Allen's reign when New Zealand beat England 23-11 at Twickenham in 1967 - Otago managing to supply the first-five/half-back pairing of Earle Kirton and Chris Laidlaw. There were also a couple of New Zealand Tests in the 1970s when a dozen different provinces were represented.

Please give an account of the origins of the conversion kick and its analogues in other sports. A Soviet book from 1935 states that the conversion should be taken from the 22-metre line. Was that ever the case? Zaal Guiguineishvili, Kazakhstan

The conversion kick is as old as rugby itself. Running with the ball became the accepted and distinguishing form of football played at Rugby School in the 1830s and the act of "running in" - i.e. crossing your opponent's goal line and touching the ball down - gave the scorer's team the opportunity to "try for a place-kick at goal." Running in became known as scoring a try and the act of "trying for goal" became known as the conversion.

In the game's infancy results were determined by the team that was the first to score two goals, and matches at Rugby School sometimes went on for several afternoons before the winner emerged. A goal could be scored by a drop-kick in open play, by a place-kick after claiming a fair catch, or by a place-kicked "try at goal" after a "run-in". Penalty goals did not become a scoring action until the 1890s.

Eventually it became the norm to place a time limit on the length of a match and the team scoring the majority of goals was declared the winner. When the number of goals was equal at the end of the prescribed period of play the game was left drawn.

The records of the Varsity Match show that the match played at Kennington Oval in December 1874 was left drawn, even though Oxford scored two tries to nil. Neither of their tries were converted. Soon after (in 1875) the Laws of the game were adjusted so that if the number of goals was equal (or no goal was kicked at all), a match could be decided in favour of the side scoring the majority of tries. Scoring by points was not introduced until the late 1880s.

The place-kick at goal has an interesting history. Originally, the opposing team could charge a place-kick the instant the ball was put on the ground (except at a penalty kick where, as now, no charge was allowed because players had to remain motionless until the kick was taken).

It was therefore virtually impossible for a kicker to place the ball himself and step back and take any kind of run-up to kick for goal after scoring a try. Teams therefore had a designated placer - often the scrum-half - who timed the placing down of the ball to synchronise perfectly with the kicker's run up, eliminating the possibility of the opposition charging down the kick at goal (like the conversion that takes place in American Football after a touchdown, the most obvious analogue of rugby's conversion kick retained in other field games).

In rugby union the Law relating to the place kick at goal after a try changed in 1958 to read: "The kicker may place the ball. The opponents may charge as the kicker begins his run or offers to kick." Placers thus became redundant.

There has never been any Law stating that the conversion should be taken from the 22-metre-line. There is, however, an optimum spot (geometrically) that maximises the angle for the conversion kick after a try. The textbook you refer to is probably giving the 22 as a suggested position that in most cases allows for both angle and the need for elevation, rather than as any legal requirement.


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