Ask John
First five-point try, England at Twickenham and the origins of a No.8
John Griffiths
February 1, 2009
All Black Va'aiga (Inga) Tuigamala on the run, Barbarians v New Zealand, Cardiff Arms Park, Wales, 1993
Former All Blacks winger Va'aiga Tuigamala was the first player to register a five-point try against Australia in 1992 © 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 his latest lesson for us all, John clarifys the origins of the five-point try, reveals details of England's record at Twickenham and the story of the No.8 position.

Q. Who scored the first international five-point try? Would it have been in 1992 or 1993? Kris Dando, New Zealand

A. The International Board signalled the introduction of the five-point try along with changes to the ruck and maul laws at their annual meeting in 1992. At Test level the new laws took effect in mid-year for the Bledisloe Cup series in Australia.

The first major Test was at the Sydney Football Stadium on July 4, 1992 when Australia won 16-15 thanks to Michael Lynagh's penalty goal at the death. The first five-pointer went to New Zealand winger Va'aiga Tuigamala when he trampled over David Campese to open the scoring in the fifth minute, but with each side scoring two tries the new scoring value made no impression on the game.

Not so the ruck and maul laws. After the Test Australia's coach Bob Dwyer said, "I think it's going to take a fair bit of time to come to terms with the culture of the new laws." All Blacks' coach Laurie Mains was more optimistic, saying that he thought the changes were positive and injected pace into the game.

Australia also conceded the first four-point try in major Tests when they played France in Toulouse on November 20, 1971. Flanker Jean-Claude Skrela scored the try when he charged down a kick by Australian fullback Arthur McGill. France led 11-0 before the Wallabies came back to win 13-11 thanks to a long-distance Jeff McLean penalty goal. Again, each side scored two tries.

Q. When was England's first defeat at Twickenham? Muffinman, UK

England's first Test at Twickenham was against Wales on January 15, 1910. England won 11-6 to register their first success against the Principality since 1898. In their next match at Twickenham four weeks later they were held to a scoreless draw by Ireland. It was not until January 4, 1913 that England suffered their first reverse at the ground. The Springboks won 9-3 there to complete the first-ever Grand Slam tour of the Home Unions.

Although England were lucky to escape with a draw against France in 1922, their next Twickenham defeat was not until January 3, 1925 when the second All Blacks, the Invincibles, beat Wavell Wakefield's Grand Slam champions 17-11. It wasn't until the following year's Calcutta Cup match that England were beaten in a Five Nations match at Twickenham, Scotland winning 17-9 on March 20, 1926 - "The Spell Gone" said the Daily Mirror.

England's Six Nations opener against Italy on February 7, will be their 250th Test at Twickenham. The record to date reads: P 249 W 158 D 23 L 68. Their best run of wins at Twickenham was 22 between 1999 and 2003 under Sir Clive Woodward.

Q. How many clubs have achieved Cardiff's distinction of winning all six matches in their Heineken Cup pool? Anon

A. There have been seven instances of teams winning all six of their pool matches in Europe's main competition. The organisers didn't settle on the current arrangement of six home/away pool games until 1997-98. There were only three teams in each of the 1995-96 pools (when Toulouse and Leinster were all-conquering in pool play) and five in 1996-97 (when Brive and Leicester, the eventual finalists, won all their pool games).

The full list of teams winning six out six in the pool stages is:
1997-98 Wasps
2001-02 Bath
2002-03 Leinster
2004-05 Leinster
2006-07 Biarritz
2006-07 Llanelli
2008-09 Cardiff

Cardiff supporters ought to know that six-match pool invincibility has not augured well in the past. Wasps, Bath, Leinster (in 2005) and Biarritz were knocked out in their quarter-finals. Leinster managed the semi-finals in 2003, and so did Llanelli in 2007 before enduring a disastrous run of eleven successive matches in Europe without victory .

Q. Each position on the rugby field has a specific name - so why is a No.8 so called? Peter Manning, England

This is a two-part question. In summary, the No 8 position evolved in South Africa, but was christened in New Zealand.

a) How did the No.8 evolve?

The position now known as No.8 evolved in South Africa in the 1920s.

Before the Great War a number of scrum patterns were tried. Most involved a three-man front-row in a 3-3-2 or more commonly 3-2-3 pack. Paddy Carolin of the 1906 Springboks claimed to have experimented with a 3-4-1 formation.

New Zealand most notably always used a 2-3-2 system. Their so-called diamond scrum had a rover to act as a detached winging forward who could also double as a second scrum-half. The Law dictating that a scrum must have a three-man front-row did not come into effect until the 1931-2 season.

New Zealand apart, forwards in Test matches were selected primarily for their all-round skills - there were no fixed position in the early days. The first forwards up for a scrum were the first to pack down, although by the early 1900s there was usually one player specifically chosen to hook and one to act as a wing forward.

There is evidence that early Australian and French packs experimented with fixed places for their players under the 3-2-3 formation, but it wasn't until 1923 that Wavell Wakefield, as pack leader, allocated fixed positions to England's forwards. Two were devolved to prop up their hooker, while two formed the second-row. Behind them was a back-row of two wing-forwards either side of a middle man who was then called the lock - the position from which the No 8 has evolved. England won the Grand Slam that year and specialism became the norm in the Home Unions.

Meanwhile in South Africa, Oubaas Markötter of the famous Stellenbosch club developed the 3-4-1 pack formation to curb a fly-half named Bennie Osler, who was the master kicker and tactician for their great rivals at the University of Cape Town. Markötter's new scrum was essentially the 3-2-3 scheme but with the wing-forwards from the back-row flanking the second-row instead - and therefore closer to the fly-half.

That helped to address the Osler problem, but other advantages of the formation became apparent. With only one man at the back, the ball was heeled from the scrum more quickly, while the opposing scrum-half and loose forwards found it harder to disrupt possession. In addition, the inward push from the flankers at the scrum channelled considerable drive through their props and put extra pressure on the opposition hooker.

All South Africa embraced the 3-4-1 scrum and by 1928 it was the preferred formation for the Springboks in their home series with the All Blacks. In the first Test their scrum was a revelation to the New Zealanders, who were demolished 17-0. It wasn't until a few years later, however, that modern back-row play evolved. Markötter considered how to make the best use of a gifted Stellenbosch threequarter named André McDonald, who was not fast enough for a back and not big enough for a forward. McDonald was moved to the solo position at the back of the scrum where he inter-played with his scrum-half in attack and was deployed as a shadow flanker in defence.

So the prototype for the No.8 evolved in South Africa as a much looser player than his forerunner, the lock. South Africa still sought strong forwards who could push from the back of the scrum, but attacking and defensive duties for which the prime attribute was mobility became part of the job description.

The Springboks toured Britain/Ireland in 1931-32, demonstrating the new scrum formation and back-row tactics to the Home Unions, and in 1933 Australia saw them for the first time when they were beaten in a series in South Africa. By the time war broke out in 1939, most of the world's rugby-playing nations had bowed to Springbok supremacy, adopting the 3-4-1 pack and refining back-row tactics. The main dissenters were the Scots, who persisted with the old 3-2-3 system until the mid 1950s.

b) When was the term No.8 first used?

It was not until the 1940s that the expression No.8 became recognised worldwide as part of rugby's lexicon.

Finding a common name for the sole player at the back of the 3-4-1 scrum seems to have taken some time. In the Home Unions he was still referred to as the lock, as he had been in the 3-2-3 system. Australian reports of the 1937 Tests against the Springboks refer to the position as anchor-man or solo-lock. South Africans called him the eighthman (as many of the old-timers out there still do), in New Zealand he was usually the back-row and to the French he was le troisième ligne centre.

Numbering of players in Tests was a haphazard affair until the 1960s. In the Five Nations, some teams numbered from 1 to 15 from the back, starting with the fullback and finishing with a flanker (so that the back-row man was number 14). France and Ireland often numbered in reverse starting from the front-row, making the middle-man of the loose trio number 7. Wales even used letters throughout the 30s and 40s making him letter N! Players on tour were numbered 1 to 30 and kept their allocated numbers for Tests.

Old Test programmes show that the earliest efforts to number the back-row man with jersey eight were in New Zealand's South Island during the 1930s, after their 2-3-2 scrum was outlawed. For NZ v Australia at Dunedin in 1936 and NZ v SA at Christchurch in 1937 the All Blacks' back-row man wore this number. Abbreviating the South African term eighthman to No.8 originated there and the noted New Zealand rugby historian, Arthur Swan, was among the first to refer to him in print as the "number-eight". When post-war Tests resumed in 1946, New Zealand led the way in regularly numbering their back-row man in the eight jersey.

Curiously, South Africa's Hennie Muller, who played Test rugby between 1949 and 1953 and was universally hailed as the definitive eighthman of his day, never wore an eight shirt in a Test, although by 1951 the British press were referring to him as the team's No 8.

It was not until the 1960s that the shirt number universally matched its position's name in Test matches.

Q. How far does the referee run during the course of a match? Anon

A. Approximately eight to twelve miles. Delving through the records from sixty years ago it appears that the measurement was carried out during the mid-week match between the British Police and Royal Navy at Cardiff Arms Park. (February 2, 1949).

The trial was made after a soccer referee had covered ten miles during the course of a 90-minute match. Fred Croster, a well-known Cardiff referee, controlled the rugby experiment wearing a pedometer.

At the end of the game it showed that he had run eight miles in the course of his duties. Nowadays there are fewer stoppages for scrums and line-outs than was the norm sixty years ago, so referees might reasonably be expected to travel 50% further than their predecessors of the late 1940s. Perhaps it's time for another trial?


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