Ask John
Irish club fixtures, feeding the scrum and tour sides in Wales
John Griffiths
March 2, 2009
England's Rory Underwood (left) and Tony pose before a match against the Barbarians,
Rory (left) and Tony Underwood are one of 11 sets of brothers to have played for England © 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 offers an insight into Irish club fixtures, feeding the scrum and tour sides in Wales.

Q. What is the oldest-surviving club fixture in Ireland? Andrew O'Malley, Ireland

A. Dublin University Football Club (known as DUFC or Trinity College) is Ireland's most senior rugby organisation. The club gives its year of foundation as 1854 - the year for which their records show that one Robert Henry Scott was their secretary and treasurer - though it is thought that students were playing at Trinity before that date.

The first newspaper reference to a match there is believed to date from December 1, 1855 when the Dublin Daily Express carried notice of a match between "original and new members of the club …. to commence at two o' clock, College Time." In the earliest days matches were restricted to games between the students: Freshmen v The Rest; Football Club v Boat Club; English Students v Irish Students etc.

The first "outside" match played by DUFC was on December 1, 1860, when the students took on "The Wanderers", a team comprising former club members or students who had "wandered" from Trinity on graduation. The current Wanderers club was not officially formed until the early 1870s, but they ascribe their foundation to former DUFC students wanting to provide opposition to the undergrads at a time when there was no other club in Dublin. The match of 1860 was, it seems likely, a precursor for the foundation of the Wanderers club. The clubs most recently met on December 6, 2008 when Wanderers beat the students 16-9 in their AIL match.

The purists might reasonably argue, however, that the first official match between the sides' First XVs was not until 1875-76. A DUFC rule stated that their first fifteen could only play matches against clubs that had beaten their seconds. So when did DUFC's first XV play its first match against a recognisable club? That seems to have taken place on December 16, 1871 when they defeated Belfast's oldest side, the North of Ireland Football Club (NIFC).

NIFC - or North as they became known in rugby circles - had been formed in the autumn of 1868 and, like their Dublin brethren, found it difficult arranging outside matches. Their problem was solved by the formation in the autumn of 1869 of a rugby club at Queen's University, Belfast. Unlike the Dubliners, North had no restriction about sides having to defeat their seconds before winning recognition with a first fifteen fixture. On January 16, 1870, the first match between NIFC and Queen's University was staged on the Ormeau grounds of the North club and it sounds as if it was an epic. It lasted three days before Queen's were declared the winners.

NIFC amalgamated (with Belfast Collegians) in 1999 but continue today as Belfast Harlequins. Their most recent senior fixture in arguably Ireland's longest-running rugby saga with Queen's was on September 6, 2008 in the Ulster Senior League. That game sounds like an epic, too: Belfast Harlequins ran out winners by 65-45.

Q. Reading the Laws of the game I understand that the scrum-half can feed the ball from the right hand side of the scrum, if only he declares his will beforehand. Why doesn't this ever happen? Alberto Radici, Italy

A. Absolutely right. Law 20.5 (a) states: "The scrum-half must throw in the ball from the side of the scrum first chosen." So, if he decides to feed the scrum from the right he is at liberty to do so. He is not allowed to change his mind once he has made his choice.

The reason that scrum-halves always feed the ball from the left, however, relates to the left prop - the position occupied by the loose-head. He is the front-row player who occupies the position at the outside (or loose end) of the tunnel when the scrum is formed. The binding of the remaining front-row players means that the hooker is always closer to the mouth of the tunnel on his loose-head's side.

So when the scrum-half feeds from the left, his hooker is automatically standing slightly closer to him than the opposition's hooker and therefore enjoys a slightly better view of the ball entering the scrum as well as having a split-second advantage striking for it. Were the scrum-half to elect to put in from the right, the opposition's loose-head and hooker would gain these advantages.

It is very rare to see a strike against the head these days and at Test level there is never likely to be a scrimmage repeat of the England-France match at Twickenham in 1965 when Yves Menthillier, the French hooker, lost nine strikes against the head. The England rake that day was Richmond's Steve Richards. It should be added, however, that there were far more scrums (and line-outs) in the matches of forty to fifty years ago than there are today.

Q. Welsh clubs seem to have an uncanny knack of beating touring international sides from the Southern Hemisphere. Can you remind me of such successes? I was present when Llanelli beat New Zealand (was it 1972 or thereabouts?) at Stradey Park. Brian Jones, Australia

A. Like the day President Kennedy was shot, every Welshman remembers where he was when Llanelli beat the All Blacks 9-3 in October 1972. That was the night, in the immortal words of Max Boyce, "the pubs ran dry."

The late Ray Gravell was in the Llanelli side that day and formed a scarlet shield in the centre with Roy Bergiers. The Llanelli try came when Bergiers charged down a clearance kick from All Black Lin Colling. Phil Bennett converted and Andy Hill hit a 50-yard penalty ten minutes from the end.

Welsh clubs have been defeating overseas tourists since 1888, when the New Zealand Native team (better known as the Maori) went down at Llanelli and Cardiff. The Maori were beaten by the Scarlets again in 1926 and 1982.

Pontypool enjoyed two wins over tour sides in the same year, beating the Maoris 6-5 on New Year's Day 1927 and the New South Wales Waratahs 6-3 eleven months later. Those Waratahs were subsequently upgraded to full Australian status by the Australian Rugby Union because there were no other States playing the game at the time.

The first Welsh club to win against a Tri-Nations side was Cardiff. Their 17-0 defeat of the First Springboks in filthy conditions on New Year's Day 1907 remains the biggest winning margin by a Welsh club against the three major Southern Hemisphere visitors. Overall, the capital's city slickers have the best record against these sides.

Llanelli's 8-3 win against Australia in 1908 gave rise to the Scarlet anthem, Who beat the Walla-walla-bies, and Swansea's 11-3 defeat of the Third All Blacks - the first defeat that New Zealand suffered against a club side on European soil - caused arguably the greatest embarrassment for a visiting side. The architects of Swansea's win were their teenaged half-backs from Gowerton, Willie Davies and Haydn Tanner. "Don't tell them back home that we were beaten by a pair of schoolboys," New Zealand's skipper, Jack Manchester, said to the press afterwards.

Newport's purple patch against touring teams was between 1957 and 1969 when they completed a triple triumph over Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Several Newport men enjoyed earlier success playing under Monmouthshire's banner against famous New Zealand Army touring teams that were All Blacks in all but name.

In 1919, Monmouthshire were the only British side to defeat the NZ Army side, winning 4-3 in a late-season match staged at Ebbw Vale. The famous 1946 NZ Expeditionary Forces side - the so-called Kiwis - lost only two matches in Britain: against Scotland and 15-0 to Monmouthshire at Pontypool, where Newport three-quarter Hedley Rowland crossed for a hat-trick of tries.

The list of wins by Welsh club sides or combined sides against official, fully-representative visitors from the three major Southern Hemisphere rugby powers is:

v South Africa
January 1, 1907 - Cardiff 17-0
October 24, 1912 - Newport 9-3
December 26, 1912 - Swansea 3-0
November 12, 1969 - Newport 11-6
November 19, 1969 - Gwent 14-8

v New Zealand
September 28, 1935 - Swansea 11-3
November 21, 1953 - Cardiff 8-3
October 30, 1963 - Newport 3-0
October 31, 1972 - Llanelli 9-3

v Australia
October 17, 1908 - Llanelli 8-3
December 26, 1908 - Swansea 6-0
December 28, 1908 - Cardiff 24-8
December 8, 1927 - Pontypool 6-3
September 27, 1947 - Cardiff 11-3
November 23, 1957 - Newport 11-0
December 14, 1957 - Cardiff 14-11
January 8, 1958 - Abertillery/Ebbw Vale 6-5
November 5, 1966 - Cardiff 14-8
November 26, 1966 - Swansea 9-8
November 29, 1966 - Pontypool/Cross Keys/Newbridge 12-3
January 17, 1967 - Llanelli 11-0
November 1, 1975 - Cardiff 14-9
October 28, 1981 - Bridgend 12-9
October 24, 1984 - Cardiff 16-12
November 20, 1984 - Llanelli 19-16
November 4, 1992 - Swansea 21-6
November 14, 1992 - Llanelli 13-9

Q. How many pairs of brothers have, like the Armitages, played together for England?

A. The Armitages were the eleventh pair of brothers to appear together in the same England Test team, but only the fourth to do so at Twickenham since the ground opened for Test rugby 99 years ago.

Reg and Louis Birkett - 1875 to 1877
Harry and John Graham - 1875 (December match)
James and Robert Hunt - 1882
Temple and Charles Gurdon - 1880 to 1886
Fred and Frank Byrne - 1897
James and Joseph Davidson - 1899
Percy and Frank Stout - 1898 to 1899
Adrian and "Tim" Stoop - 1910 to 1911
Arthur and Harold Wheatley - 1937 to 1938
Rory and Tony Underwood - 1992 to 1995
Delon and Steffon Armitage - 2009

Only two pairs have achieved the distinction of scoring tries in the same match.

Gloucester's Frank (a forward) and Percy (a wing) Stout scored England's two first-half tries in the 14-7 defeat of Wales at Rectory Field, Blackheath, in 1898. Rory and Tony Underwood performed the try-scoring double against Scotland at Twickenham in 1993 and the brothers were scorers again in successive matches in the autumn of 1994, against Romania and Canada. Their last try-scoring feat together was against Italy in Durban during the 1995 World Cup. All told, the Underwoods played together 19 times - the record for English siblings.

Q. Years ago, Will Carling referred to the management of the RFU as a bunch of old farts. I think the same guys, or at least some are still in their posts and still causing controversy. How do they get elected, how accountable are they and to whom? Malcolm Whitfield, UK

A. Will Carling's remarks were made in the Spring of 1995 when the process for election to the RFU committee was as it had been for most of the preceding hundred years. Every season, each club affiliated to the Union elected a representative to sit on its county (or constituent) body. Each constituent body similarly elected a member to sit on the RFU's committee, which in turn annually nominated from its membership a President. The RFU committee were responsible for formulating policy for the game in England and there was a full-time Secretary - the body's chief executive - to administer its policies and the running of the game. The President in Carling's day was Dennis Easby, a Berkshire representative who in his younger days had been a well-known referee and actually ran the line as England's touch-judge at Cardiff in 1967 when Keith Jarrett made his famous debut for Wales.

After rugby became open in 1995 the RFU, like the other Unions, gradually amended the way it administered the game. The committee became a council whose members continue to be elected in the same way, but their powers have considerably changed. Budge Rogers, an England captain in the late 1960s and RFU President in 2001, undertook a review of the structure of the English game's governing body. The upshot was that the council surrendered its decision-making powers to a management board comprising 13 individuals currently under the chairmanship of Martyn Thomas. The board includes the RFU's chief executive (Francis Baron), elite performance director, commercial director, finance director and co-opted council members. The council continue to formulate policy, but the RFU's management board, which meets monthly, is tasked with running the English game at international level and below the Premiership.

Then, of course, there is Premier Rugby Ltd (PRL), the umbrella organisation for the Guinness Premiership. Last July, the RFU and PRL signed an eight-year agreement on the future of the elite game in England. The concord included settlement of the long-running debate over player release for Test matches and created a new management level in English rugby known as the Professional Game Board (PGB).

PGB provides a bridge between the professional clubs and the RFU and will oversee the agreement governing the elite game. The RFU and PRL each have four votes on the Board with the Professional Rugby Players' Association (PRA) carrying one vote. The RFU's chairman holds the casting vote. The organisations recently made headlines regarding PRL's wish to extend the Premiership season (rejected by the RFU management board) and the future of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Those with the future of the English game at heart will hope that the relationship will eventually bed in to the satisfaction of all involved.

If Riki Flutey is going to live and play in France, does he remain eligible to play for England, given that he qualified purely on residential grounds? Paul Johns, England

A. Yes. In the wake of the so-called "grannygate" scandals in 2000, when it was discovered that the New Zealanders Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson were unqualified to play for Wales and Dave Hilton was unqualified to play for Scotland, the International Rugby Board tightened up the regulations relating to eligibility to appear in an international match.

Their Regulation Eight now states that a player may only represent the country of his birth or where at least one parent or grandparent was born, or where he has been resident for three consecutive years immediately preceding his selection.

Moreover, once a player has appeared for his country in a representative (fifteens or sevens) match at senior or "next senior" level - ie England Saxons or Wales A etc - he is not eligible to play for another country.

That means that Riki Flutey, or any other former England player who chooses to move to France, continues to be eligible to play for England. He may not play for another country.


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