Ask John
Next year's Wales-England clash, the Calcutta Cup and law queries
John Griffiths
May 24, 2010

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 next year's Wales-England clash, the Calcutta Cup and law queries.

Wales and England will open the Six Nations next season with a Friday-night match. Have the countries ever met in Wales before other than on a Saturday? Hugh G, England

Next year's Six Nations opener will be the first time that the sides meet on Welsh soil outside the traditional Saturday slot.

Many of the international matches staged in the 1870s and early 1880s were Monday afternoon fixtures, and Sunday rugby has been a part of the Five/Six Nations since the 1990s, but the two old rivals have never previously met on those days in Wales.

There was one Welsh "home" game, however, staged on a Sunday: the famous last-ever Five Nations match won by Wales 32-31 at Wembley Stadium in April 1999. While the Millennium Stadium was built, Wales staged their home matches in the Five Nations at the home of English soccer.

I was looking at the group stages for the Rugby World Cup next year. I've seen that England and Scotland are in the same group. This leads to my question: will they play for the Calcutta Cup during that match, or is that something that is only specific to the Six Nations? Callum Sheppard, England

The Calcutta Cup will not be at stake in the World Cup pool match, nor was it at stake when the sides met in the 1991 Rugby World Cup semi-final at Murrayfield.

There is no hard and fast rule, however, about the Calcutta Cup having to be a Five or Six Nations match. (The early matches for the Cup in the 1870s and 1880s took place before an informal Home International Championship was ever considered.)

The English and Scottish Unions have been considering the possibility of staging a two-match series for the Cup in the future. It is envisaged that one match would be part of the normal Six Nations season and the extra Test would be arranged outside the Championship.

If the Six Nations game were at Murrayfield the intention would be to play the second match at Twickenham. If the Championship game were at Twickenham the second match would be at Murrayfield.

With Mike Catt announcing his retirement recently, how many current players are there left who played top-flight Test rugby as an amateur? Doug, England

The 1995 Rugby World Cup was the last Test rugby played before the game went professional. Apart from Mike Catt (England), two other regulars from that last amateur tournament have played top-class rugby in Europe this year: Wales's Gareth Thomas (Cardiff Blues) and New Zealand's Andrew Mehrtens (Racing Club Metro 92).

The current London Wasps lock Simon Shaw toured South Africa with England in 1994 while Leeds Carnegie scrum-half Andy Gomarsall was called into the England Rugby World Cup squad in 1995 as a replacement. Neither, however, won their Test spurs until 1996, the year after the game went open.

When and what caused the laws to be changed to allow a try to be scored with your torso instead of a hand? Bill Reed, Australia

The International Board announced changes to the definition of grounding the ball at their meeting in London as long ago as January 1964. The new law came into effect for the South African Rugby Board's Jubilee celebration matches in May of the same year.

Before 1964 a try could only be scored by a player in his opponent's in-goal area "placing his hand or hands on the ball, while it is on the ground, so that he is able to exert on it a downward pressure."

The change was adopted to ease decision-making for referees, who sometimes could not tell (in a tackle or pushover scrum, for instance) if a hand had actually been placed on the ball.

The 1964 ruling amended the definition of "grounding" to remove doubts and allow a try (or a touchdown for a drop-out) to be awarded without touching the ball with the hands. The provision allowed for any part of the front of the body, from the waist to the neck, to be in contact with the ball on the ground in-goal for a try or touchdown to be awarded, making the referee's job easier.

It is probably worth reminding readers of the current laws relating to grounding the ball:

There are two ways a player can ground the ball:

(a) Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, in in-goal. 'Holding' means holding in the hand or hands, or in the arm or arms. No downward pressure is required.

(b) Player presses down on the ball. A player grounds the ball when it is on the ground in the in-goal and the player presses down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player's body from waist to neck inclusive.

Can you provide some insight into the historical reasons for rugby pitch dimensions being denominated in metric units and not in imperial units? It seems paradoxical that a game which is much more focused around British/Commonwealth countries than (Association) Football uses metric measures, while football uses imperial ones (or their approximate metric equivalents). E.g: the football goal is 8 yds x 8 ft, the rugby goal is 5.6 m x 3 m. Radu Ogrezeanu-Ghica, Romania

Rugby's measures, like soccer's, are indeed based on former Imperial equivalents. The 5.6m by 3m rugby goal dimensions you quote are approximately equivalent to the 5½ yds (or 18 ft 6 in) x 10 ft Imperial measures given in the original laws. The 22-metre line, many will remember, used to be called the 25-yards line.

(It is interesting to note that the metric equivalent of 25 yards is 22.86 metres, so actually nearer to 23 metres. Perhaps the rationale for rounding down to 22 was to further restrict, albeit ever so slightly, the Australian dispensation rule which had entered the law book in 1968 in its Imperial form as a restriction on kicking directly to touch from outside the defender's 25-yard-line.)

The International Rugby Board actually began discussing the necessity to go metric with its laws in the late 1960s at the same time as the UK prepared to convert to the metric system. The British currency went metric in February 1971 and the drive for conversion in everyday life was in anticipation of Britain joining the European Union (April 1973).

The Board finally set out rugby's laws in metric form in 1977.

The recent obituaries for the Welsh cap Gwyn Rowlands noted that he played in two England trials in 1948-49. Do you have any details of the games? Anon

Dr Gwyn Rowlands, who died on 30th April in Aylesbury, was a member of both the Cardiff and Wales sides that defeated the 1953-4 All Blacks.

Born, bred and educated in the Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted, his performances for the London Hospital attracted the England selectors in the autumn of 1948 when he was invited to play for the junior side, the "Colours", in the first trial, at Northampton's Franklin's Gardens on 27th November.

The junior side outplayed the "Whites" 14-3 with Rowlands, on the right wing, scoring the final try of the match. Dai Gent, in the Sunday Times, wrote "Rowlands used all his abundant dash to get over the line."

Three weeks later Rowlands was on the right wing for the second trial at Camborne, turning out for the Possibles against the Probables. Although on the winning side again (the Possibles winning 8-5), he was not invited to the Final trial at Twickenham on New Year's Day. He had his first Welsh trial the season after, became a regular in Welsh trials and went on to win four caps for Wales between 1953 and 1956.

He wasn't the only Welshman to appear in trials for both England and Wales at the time. His colleague in the English Possibles at Camborne in 1948 was Norman Fryer, who played scrum-half for Harlequins. A maths undergraduate at Cambridge University, Fryer appeared as a replacement for injured scrum-half, Gordon Rimmer. Two years later he was in the Welsh Probables for the first trial of the 1950-51 season, but unlike Rowlands he never achieved an international cap.


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