Ask John
The longest-lived Test player, the game clock and Tony Brown's Super Rugby record
John Griffiths
March 28, 2011

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 longest-lived Test player, the game clock, the International Championship, penalty tries, Tony Brown and Ennis Road.

Was TG Wallis of Ireland the longest-lived Test player ever? Finbarr Connolly, Ireland

Tom Wallis was born on October 2, 1897 and died, aged 103, on October 31, 2000. Not all of the births and deaths of former Test players have been uncovered, but among those whose dates are known, Ernest Cecil Pinkham (Canada, 1932) died in his 103rd year while George Harman (Ireland, 1899) and James Henderson (Scotland, 1933) passed away in their 102nd years. Wallis is thought to have been the longest-lived Test rugby player to date.

When did the game clock become a permanent part of Test matches, enabling referees to call for time off? J Kerr, Scotland

The International Board allowed for off-field timekeeping in 2000 but it wasn't until queries were raised after Australia's last-minute injury-time win against NZ that year that referees were relieved of having sole responsibility for keeping time.

The universal game clock was made normal practice for all Tests after the Wales-South Africa match at Cardiff in November 2004. South Africa coach Jake White sent on a host of late subs with, as he thought, only a minute or so remaining. Wales ran in two tries and White fumed afterwards - the game clock had not been stopped for injuries and the referee actually played about ten minutes more than White had expected.

How many times have England won the International Championship - Four, Five or Six Nations - and what were their finishing places between 2003 and 2011? Mark Simmonds, England

England won the title for the 26th time this season. It was a Four-nations tournament from the early 1880s to 1909. France made it a Five Nations between 1910 and 1931, when it reverted to Four-nations up to the War. From 1947 to 1999 France were back in the fold, and since 2000 it has been a Six Nations tournament.

Click here for a complete list of Championship winners.

England's finishes between 2003 and 2011 were as follows:
2004 - 3rd
2005 - 4th
2006 - 4th
2007 - 3rd
2008 - 2nd
2009 - 2nd
2010 - 3rd

What is the widest distance out from the posts that a penalty try has been given? John, Ireland

Penalty tries are more common these days, now that referees are encouraged to award them for repeated infringements, particularly at scrums, but were relatively rare until the late 1990s.

The closest penalty try to the touchline given in major Tests was probably the one that New Zealand was awarded early in the second half against the Lions during the second Test of the 1971 series at Christchurch.

New Zealand led 8-6 when Sid Going broke towards the All Blacks' left touchline and when tackled unloaded the ball to his wing, Bryan Williams. Gerald Davies tackled Williams early and referee John Pring ran round behind the posts to signal a try which otherwise would have been scored at the corner. The All Blacks went on to win 22-12 - the only defeat the 1971 Lions suffered in New Zealand.

British critics felt that the ball had gone forward from Going in the tackle, but coach Carwyn James scotched any thoughts of a lingering grievance by saying immediately afterwards that he would be very happy for Mr Pring to be nominated to referee the third Test. Pring was in charge for the rest of the series in fact, the Lions winning the rubber 2-1 with one Test drawn.

Tony Brown turned out for the Highlanders for the 84th time recently. What I would like to know is how many Super Rugby games he has played as he was also a player for both the Sharks and the Stormers. Has he reached 100 Super Rugby games? Gerard Pauley, New Zealand

Former All Black Tony Brown played 83 Super-games scoring 817 points for the Highlanders up to the end of the 2004 tournament and, aged 36, has been drafted back into the squad this season. He joined Sanyo (Japan) in 2004 but also re-appeared for South African franchises in Super 14s between 2006 and 2008.

In 2006 he played eight matches (scoring 73 points) for the Sharks and in 2008 he made another eight appearances (mainly as a substitute) scoring a dozen points for the Stormers. So before this season his overall Super-record was 99 matches - 902 points (5t, 143c, 190p, 7dg). He made his 100th appearance in Super Rugby in his comeback match (his 84th for the Highlanders) earlier this month.

What do you know of the venue for the 1898 Ireland v Wales game? Anon, England

The game was staged in Limerick but it was not at Thomond Park. It was played at Ennis Road, Limerick, where the Limerick tennis club, which survives, was based. In the 1880s there was a rugby section to the sports club. Indeed Limerick RFC were beaten by Garryowen at Ennis Road in the 1889 Munster Senior (Rugby) Cup Final.

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