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Several moments in my undistinguished rugby life stand out, but no more so than in 1991.
This was the year that I took my wife and two young sons to Perth in Western Australia (WA) for a year long Teacher Exchange organised by a Commonwealth Exchange Programme.
Teaching in a social priority school was challenging but enjoyable. As a Physical Education teacher in the UK I had been involved in teaching and coaching rugby, but now found myself learning a new set of skills when asked to teach Aussie Rules Football and Lacrosse.
With a yearning to reconnect with the English version of the oval ball, I answered an advertisement in the local West Australian newspaper to get involved in the Golden Oldies Rugby tournament to be held in Perth (26th May to 1st June 1991). Continue reading
At the outbreak of war it had been decided that New Zealand should provide an Expeditionary Force of one division, under the then Major-General, former player and rugby supporter Bernard Freyburg. Their first echelon had landed in Egypt in February 1940, the third in September. The second was diverted to Britain on Italy’s entry into the war and did not reach Egypt until the spring of the following year, ready for the move to northern Greece.
As in WW1, rugby organized or otherwise was a big part of NZ service life. As well as a local rugby competition for unit teams in 1940–41, before heading for the desert, there was soon a rash of fixtures against useful opposition. These regularly featured magnificent displays by that 1935 All Black tourist Eric Tindill at scrum half, though he had been capped at five eighth. Tindill died aged 99 in 2010 after a unique career as a NZ cap at both rugby and cricket, a Test cricket umpire and Test rugby referee.
The UK rugby season, such as it was, closed at the end of April, 1940: whereupon Hitler launched his assault in the west, into Scandinavia, then through Holland and Belgium, once again, into France. Churchill replaced Chamberlain on May 10th and battle was joined.
It was not long-lasting, the German plan working shockingly well. The British Expeditionary Force, which had hoped to help defend France, retreated before the month’s end to Dunkirk, where a mixture of bravery, stubbornness, luck and Nazi over-confidence in their Luftwaffe allowed over 330,000 British and Allied troops to be evacuated by ships big and, famously, little. They had, vitally, lived to fight another day. To be precise, a D-Day, exactly four years later…
La Voulte-sur-Rhone is a small town of 5,000 inhabitants with a proud rugby heritage situated in the Ardeche department in the south east of France. For one magical season in 1969-70, La Voulte was the champion club of France and winners of the much coveted ‘Bouclier de Brennus’ by defeating Montferrand in the Stade Municipal in Toulouse. It is still one of only two clubs with fewer than 10,000 citizens to win this illustrious trophy.
La Voulte boasted the architects of the first French Grand Slam in 1968, the Camberabero brothers Guy and Lilian at half back, the Romanian international full back Mihai Wusek and two internationals in their pack, the prop Jean-Claude Noble and the second row forward Michel Savitsky, but they were not one of the fancied club sides at the beginning of the season. Continue reading
Swansea born Dai Gent twice trialled for Wales before being selected for England. A prototype scrum-half at a time when the English were playing half-backs, he memorably partnered Adrian Stoop in the English midfield in the first test-match to be held at Twickenham, in 1910, where England beat Wales for the first time in 12 years. He won 5 caps for England between 1905 and 1910 and in later life became a rugby correspondent with The Times newspaper.
The following extract in which he selects his ‘best ever’ side is from his 1922 book ‘Rugby Football’.
Some rugby grounds inspire great performances and Twickenham is no exception. The great deeds of English players tend to dominate in the collective memories of English fans – think Richard Sharp or Andy Hancock in the 1960s – but there have been players from other countries who have reserved some of their finest performances on the rugby field for this part of south-west London.
Photo Credit: John Gichigi /Allsport
Such a player was the French three-quarter Christophe Lamaison from Brive who gave two of the finest performances by a Frenchman in two epic encounters at Twickenham in the late 1990s. Known throughout French rugby as “Titou”, he had first appeared for France as a fly half in the two-match series against South Africa in the autumn of 1996. I was there at the second test at Parc des Princes and, composed and always in control, Lamaison had played well in a 12-13 defeat, although his drop kicking skills let him down near the end of the match when he had the chance to kick France to victory. Continue reading
Barney Burnham recalls Wasps’ memorable run to the final of the 2004 Heineken Cup…
The semi-final game was to be played on Sunday, April the 25th. I was scheduled to work overnight on the Saturday, finishing at 5am on the Sunday. That gave me time to go home, have a shower, then dash to Heathrow to catch an earlyish flight to the Irish capital.
I arrived in the city centre shortly before the pubs opened. As I waited outside a place where I’d arranged to meet some friends, a young lady in a Munster shirt chatted with me. I told her that I’d been up all night, so I wasn’t sure whether my first pint of a certain stout would be a nightcap or breakfast. We went our separate ways, unaware that we would meet again a few weeks later, of which more anon.
The match was an epic, generally regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all club games ever played. Continue reading
This month’s featured object from the World Rugby Museum’s collection is a drawing by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970), one of the most popular British artists of the first half of the twentieth century. Created using charcoal and poster paint, the drawing depicts a rugby player in a red jersey tackling another player in a black and white striped jersey who has possession of the ball. The drawing appears to have functioned as a preparatory study for a London Transport poster produced in 1921.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859, and went on to study medicine at Edinburgh University. It is here that he met an eccentric professor who inspired the invention of one of the best loved literary characters in history – Sherlock Holmes. With four novels and 56 short stories detailing the adventures of the sleuth, Mr Holmes has become embedded in British culture and has made 292 screen appearances to date – experiencing a surge in popularity in recent times with the BBC’s award-winning sensation Sherlock, starring heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch. However, having strayed somewhat far from the original stories with endless modernisations, it is interesting to now revisit the tales and uncover Conan Doyle’s frequent and unmissable references to sport – and in particular, the game of rugby.
In 1881 Sunderland Football Club was victorious in the first ever Durham County Cup and the club is lucky enough to still have a hand tinted team photograph with all the players named. Continue reading