Ask John
England's youngest centres and All Black hat-tricks
John Griffiths
June 20, 2012
England's Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi, England training session, St David's School, Sandton, South Africa, June 14, 2012
Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi started in midfield for England against South Africa last weekend © Getty Images

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 looks at England's youngest centre pairing, New Zealand's hat-trick heroes, Munster's unique Heineken Cup record and the career of John Marshall.

Who were the youngest England centres to start a cap match before Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi? MC, England

Joseph was 21 years, 26 days old and Tuilagi 21 years, 29 days old when they took the field against South Africa at Ellis Park last Saturday. Their average age was just over 21.

There have, of course, been younger centres. Mathew Tait was capped the day before his 19th birthday against Wales in 2005, Jonny Wilkinson played a season in the centre in 1999 when he was only 19, and Paul Dodge was another capped as a teenager.

You have to go back to 1934 to find a younger average age for an England centre-pairing, though. Peter Cranmer was 19 years, 132 days old and his partner Ron Gerrard 21 years, 360 days when they first played together in a 9-0 win against Wales at Cardiff that year. They stayed together for the season, with England winning the Triple Crown (France were excommunicated from the Championship at the time). Their average age throughout the Triple Crown campaign was under 21.

Both were first-class cricketers. Cranmer captained Warwickshire and was a regular contributor to the rugby columns of the Sunday Times in the 1950s and 1960s. Gerrard played for Somerset and was a Bath rugby stalwart. He was killed in action during World War Two. His wife, Molly, remained a staunch Bath regular for years after his death and later served as club President.

David Duckham and John Spencer averaged around the 22 years mark when they first played together for England (against Ireland in Dublin in 1969). Other similarly young pairings of recent times were Paul Dodge/Richard Cardus and Peter Warfield/Peter Preece.

The previous youngest post-war pairing was Lew Cannell and Clive van Ryneveld, the South African Test cricket captain who was at Oxford when he played for England. When they first played against Wales at Cardiff in 1949 they averaged 21 years 261 days.

Can you provide the list of All Blacks who preceded Julian Savea scoring three tries on their full Test debut? Paul Wilson, New Zealand

Savea became the seventh New Zealander to achieve a hat-trick of tries on debut. The list in date order is as follows:

F E Mitchinson v Australia, Sydney, 1907
T W Lynch v Australia, Wellington, 1913
J W Wilson v Scotland, Murrayfield, 1993
C M Cullen v Samoa, Napier, 1996
T V Flavell v Tonga, Albany, 2000
S W Sivivatu* v Fiji, Albany , 2005
S J Savea v Ireland, Auckland, 2012

* Sivivatu's debut haul was four tries.

Have any clubs/provinces come back to win the Heineken Cup after losing their opening match of the pool stages? This year's winners, Leinster, drew their opening pool game away to Montpellier in November. Barry, Ireland

The only team do this contrasting "double" is Munster - twice. They lost 27-13 away to Sale on the opening weekend of the 2005-06 campaign before a winning run took them through to a 23-19 victory over Biarritz in the Millennium Stadium final.

Two years later they did exactly the same thing. This time they lost their opener 24-23 away to reigning champions Wasps before crowning their season with a 16-13 final win against Toulouse back in Cardiff.

Two sides have won the Heineken Cup after drawing their first pool game. In 1998-99 (when the English clubs withdrew from the tournament) Ulster drew 38-38 home to Edinburgh Reivers but went on to beat Colomiers 21-6 in the final at Lansdowne Road.

As you mention, this year's champions, Leinster, drew with Montpellier 16-16 at the Stade de la Mosson on the first weekend of the season before running away 42-14 winners against Ulster in the final at Twickenham last month.

What part of the playing kit are "ledges"? D Kelly, England

The lineout jumpers - locks, flankers and No.8s - are usually heavily strapped around the thighs. Built into the wrappings are ridges. Players call these ledges. They give the props something to grip when players are lifted to catch the ball.

Do you have any information on the late John Marshall's rugby career? He was a former Rugby School housemaster? OR, England

John Campbell Marshall, who died on April 26 this year aged 83, won five caps for Scotland in the 1953-4 season. He was their fullback throughout the Five Nations campaign and also played in the narrow 3-0 defeat by New Zealand at Murrayfield.

He was educated at Rugby School and Oxford University, where he won a cricket Blue but missed out on rugby honours. He nevertheless caught the eye of the Scottish selectors and made his Scottish trial debut at Melrose playing for The Rest against Scotland in December of 1952.

The Rest beat the senior side 8-6 and Marshall was described as one of the "most notable of the successes." He impressed with his positional play and showed a fine turn of speed. He possessed a cricketer's hands and was a powerful kicker.

In March 1953 he was called into the Scottish side as a new cap to play at Twickenham but had to withdraw, his Test debut finally coming the following season against France in January 1954 by which time he was playing regularly for London Scottish. After graduating in 1953 he became a schoolmaster and taught at the Dragon School, Oxford, before returning to Rugby in 1959, later becoming a house-master there.

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