Ask John
Clarkes and tours of Ceylon
John Griffiths
August 29, 2012
George Nepia is the oldest New Zealander to play a first-class match © PA Photos

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 focuses on New Zealand with the Clarkes, Test-less wonders, veteran All Blacks and a tour of Ceylon all coming under the microscope

The four Whitelock brothers were featured when they appeared together for the Crusaders earlier this year. How many of the Clarke brothers appeared together in a first-class match? Graham, England

The Clarke brothers were a family of rugby players who lived in Morrinsville near Hamilton, some 80 or 90 miles south of Auckland. All five of them played for the local Kereone club and appeared for the Waikato side that defeated Thames Valley at Te Aroha on August 12 1961. It was the only time that they started together for the province.

Waikato won the match 11-8 with full-back Don Clarke kicking a penalty goal and converting one of the two tries. His brother Doug played in the centre that day (having covered at full-back for the province while Don was away on All Blacks duty in South Africa the previous season). The other three brothers, Ian, Brian and Graeme appeared in the pack. Ian was usually a prop while Brian and Graeme often locked the province's second-row.

The following season the five were on the field together in the Ranfurly Shield/Coronation Cup match against Auckland on September 1 1962. On that occasion Don, Ian, Graeme and Brian started the match and were joined by Doug for the last 20 minutes of the game when he came on to replace the injured Ray Kemp at first five-eighth.

Waikato lost 15-11 but two of the brothers contributed all Waikato's points: Brian scored a try, Don converted and landed two penalty goals.

Don and Ian Clarke played together for the All Blacks and were the first New Zealand brothers to do so in Tests since the Brownlies in the 1920s.

Who made most appearances for the All Blacks without ever appearing in a Test? Paul Edgar, New Zealand

The following played 15 or more games for the All Blacks without appearing in a Test match:

The Test-less All Blacks
Player Matches All Blacks career
B Holmes 31 1970 to 1973
K E Barry 23 1962 to 1964
G L Colling 21 1972 to 1973
A Bayly 20 1893 to 1897
W McKenzie 20 1893 to 1897
F S M Murray 20 1893 to 1897
H W Brown 20 1924 to 1926
K P Bagley 20 1953 to 1954
I M Eliason 19 1972 to 1973
G M Crossman 19 1974 to 1976
C S Pepper 17 1935 to 1936
W D Gatland 17 1988 to 1991
A L Humphries 15 1897 to 1903
A R Lomas 15 1925 to 1926
M Sayers 15 1972 to 1973

Who was the oldest New Zealander to play a first-class match? Andrew Smith, New Zealand

The great Maori full-back George Nepia had a long and colourful first-class rugby career (in both league and union codes) between 1921 and 1950.

The date of birth given in his autobiography is April 25 1905 but his educational records are reported as showing his birth a year earlier. He was thus comfortably into his mid-forties and the oldest New Zealander to appear in a first-class match when he played his last game on September 30 1950.

His first-class debut was for an East-Coast Districts XV in 1921 as a teenager studying at the Maori Agricultural College in the Hastings suburb, Havelock North. He played on the wing, scoring a try in a match that was regarded as a trial for the Maori side due to tour Australia later that season. (The tour was subsequently cancelled.)

In 1922 he made his Hawke's Bay debut, scoring again from the wing position against Wairarapa, but two years were to pass before he was switched to full-back, the position in which he really made his name. He was first selected to play there for a Southern Maori XV in a Te Mori Rose Bowl match at Auckland on May 12 1924.

His display was such a revelation that he was promptly chosen at full-back in the All Black trials for the 1924-5 tour to Europe and North America and he played his first Ranfurly Shield match as a full-back for Hawke's Bay in June 1924.

He went on to appear as full-back for the All Blacks in every game on Cliff Porter's Invincibles tour, emerging from the 38-match visit as the most famous New Zealand rugby footballer of his time.

As a Maori he was ineligible for the All Blacks tour of South Africa in 1928 but he went on the tour of Australia a year later and wound up his New Zealand career in the Test series against the British/Irish Lions in 1930.

Between 1930 and 1935 he made a handful of first-class appearances before making a bid for selection for the 1935-6 All Blacks tour to Britain and Ireland. He made the New Zealand Probables during the trials but was passed over for the tour and subsequently joined the Streatham & Mitcham RL club in England.

He was later reinstated to Union and turned out for East-Coast in two provincial matches in 1947. His 129th and final first-class match came in 1950 in the inaugural match played by the Olympians Club. He was their captain and full-back in a match staged in Gisborne against a Poverty Bay side that included his son, George junior, as full-back and captain. Another notable player on the opposition that day was Brian Fitzpatrick, a future All Black and father of Sean Fitzpatrick.

Nepia senior kicked a conversion in a 17-11 win to finish his career with 400-odd first-class points.

Do you have details of the New Zealand Colts tour of Ceylon in 1955? Peter Adams, Canada

The side featured Colin Meads and Wilson Whineray and took in three matches in Australia before playing five in Ceylon. Roger Boon, Terry O'Sullivan and Ack Soper, who led the Colts, were the other future All Blacks among the tour party.

The squad was:
Full-backs: I M Ujdur, A J Duncan
Threequarters: A J McEnaney, S W Goodwin, T P A O'Sullivan, B J Preston
Five-eighths: M H Raureti, J L Green, B T Frederikson
Scrum-half: M F Whitta
Forwards: A J Soper (captain), W J Whineray, B F Duncan, R J Boon, C E Meads, E C Wheeler, D E Thurston, L J Adams, A Hayes, K G N Osbourn, J B Marshall, R H McLenaghen

The co-manager was J J Stewart, a noted All Blacks coach in the mid-1970s.

The tour results were:
v Victoria - Melbourne - Won 17-3
v South Australia - Adelaide - Won 9-6
v West Australia - Perth - Won 24-0
v Colombo Clubs - Colombo - Won 35-5
v Up-Country - Kandy - Won 24-3
v CEYLON - Radella - Won 35-0
v Ceylon Barbarians - Colombo - Won 33-0
v CEYLON - Colombo - Won 34-0

How many times since the 1999 RWC semi-final defeat by France have the All Blacks lost a Test in which they led at half-time? Chris Jones, Wales

There have been only four Tests since that 1999 World Cup reverse where the All Blacks have lost after holding a half-time lead:

Losing the half-time lead
Opponents Final score Half-time score Date
Australia 23-24 20-18 August 5 2000
Australia 15-20 15-6 June 30 2007
France 18-20 13-3 October 6 2007
Australia 24-26 17-12 October 30 2010

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