An unholy trinity of ghastly misadventures in sport happened at three historic venues: Aintree; the old twin-towered Wembley; and St Andrews. That the misadventures are still talked of five decades later says everything about their enduring appeal, writes
The trilogy features a Welsh jockey who sold 60m books on crime, a flamboyant American golfer, and one of the most prodigious goal-kickers in English rugby.
Devon Loch and Dick Francis had the 1956 Grand National as good as in the bag, when, having cleared all the hurdles, the horse inexplicably did a belly flop and ended up stranded on all fours, 40 yards from the winning post.
Don Fox’s skewed conversion, in front of the posts at a waterlogged Wembley, cost Wakefield Trinity the 1968 Rugby League Challenge Cup final.
Two years later, Doug Sanders missed a tiddler of a putt on the 72nd green, at the home of golf, and lost the Open title to a Mr Jack Nicklaus.
The three slices of outrageous misfortune came to pass over a period of 14 years. Freddie Burns’ nightmarishly plausible impression of all three, in the centre of Bath on Saturday afternoon, took him three minutes, from start to finish.
Missing a sitter happens on all kinds of football fields, in all kinds of places, every weekend. Missing two in the same match is rare and doing so after an overt display of triumphalism rarer still.
Burns started by emulating Fox. Bath, two points behind against Toulouse, with time running out, had a penalty in front of the posts, which their full back duly missed. Worse, far worse, was to befall the same player.
Striding through a huge gap and over the try-line, Burns carried the ball in his right hand. Oblivious to his fate and the important business of dotting the ball down, he used the other hand to blow a kiss to the fans and pat the badge on his jersey, a play to the gallery which allowed Maxime Medard to make the Englishman suffer for his folly.
The Toulouse full-back came from behind and knocked the ball out of Burns’ hand, as his opposite number finally stooped to complete the score. For his sins, he ended up in the same prone position Devon Loch had been in more than half-a-century earlier: flat out on his tummy.
The rugby gods do not take kindly to showboating. Burns, at 28, and having played five times for England, ought to have known better. Freddie’s frivolity cost Bath a match they ought to have won. While it cannot match Francis’ verdict of the Grand National fiasco which led to his starting a more rewarding career as an author (‘a disaster of massive proportions’), Burns’ howler may yet prove serious enough to cause his team an early Brexit from Europe.
Falcons flying as Boudjellal’s Toulon empire crumbling
At the end of a round when two of their past champions were bounced from pillar to post in Dublin and Belfast on successive nights, the battered English Premiership found salvation yesterday from an improbable source.
Newcastle Falcons sprang from the bottom of the domestic table to storm what used to be the Bastille of the Champions Cup as built by Mourad ‘Moneybags’ Boudjellal on the Mediterranean.
By the time Newcastle had finished with them, the man in black will have been in a mood to match his attire.
Beaten just once in 24 home ties before yesterday, Toulon are a shambling shadow of the team that won the holy grail three times in a row.
They finished up fumbling around in a fog thicker than the one Lindisfarne sang about on the Tyne.
Julien Savea, the latest big-money import, gave the Geordies a helping hand, giving Joel Hodgson what proved to be the winning penalty. The longer the game went, the more confused Toulon became.
Coach Patrice Colazzo over-ruled a long-range shot from Francois Trinh-Duc.
A second, closer penalty went to the corner instead of the posts and when a drop goal begged to be taken in front of the Newcastle posts, there was nobody to take it.
Lowry stands up for the game’s little guy
Michael Lowry deserves a special accolade this morning. In a winning debut, Ulster’s emergency full-back offered reassuring proof that the game has not been entirely taken over by muscle-bound giants.
At 5ft 7in and less than 13 stone, Ireland’s former under-20 fly-half’s courage, skill, and eye for a gap carried him through what could easily have been a torrid initiation on a rainy night. Before seeing Leicester off the premises, as they had done most famously at Ravenhill, back in the Dean Johnson-Martin Johnson era, 15 years ago, Ulster had introduced a back even younger than Lowry, Angus Kernohan. He was one of several teenagers chosen for Champions’ Cup duty at the weekend, a rejuvenation so pronounced that when it comes to picking a team to represent the new kids on the block, Jordan Larmour is no longer young enough. A Grand Slammer with Ireland last season, he’s too old, at 21.
Michael Lowry (Ulster, 20); Colm De Buitlear (Connacht, 20), Angus Kernohan (Ulster, 19), Angus Curtis (Ulster, 20), Owen Lane (Cardiff Blues, 20); Roman NTamack (Toulouse, 19), Quetin Delord (Lyon, 19); Jean-Baptiste Gros (Toulon, 19), Teddy Baubigny (Racing, 20), Joe Heyes (Leicester, 19); Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 20), Florent Vanverberghe (Toulon, 18); Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, 20), Tony Reffell (Leicester, 19), Zach Mercer (Bath, 21).
Wind and rain but no red mist
An avalanche of red cards had been widely forecast for the weekend along with the wind and the rain. Despite officials having been under orders to make examples of head-high tackles, there wasn’t a red to be seen despite a lively Anglo-Scottish dust-up at Scotstoun.
What dear old Bill McLaren would euphemistically shrug off as ‘a bit of how’s your father,’ passed without French referee Raynaud feeling the need for an expulsion order. How his Irish counterpart, Andrew Brace, did likewise over a second-half incident at Bath will take some explaining.
Toulouse prop Lucas Pointud smashed Bath’s Nathan Catt out of a ruck head first with a flying butt. Incredibly, none of the officials appointed to enforce law and order appeared to consider the incident worth a word in someone’s ear.
And so Pointud got off scot-free. Toulouse will have seen that as poetic justice given that their Kiwi No. 8, Jerome Kaino, had been binned for a lesser offence, if it was an offence at all.
A classic at Sandy Park
Nothing can destroy a game of rugby like the wind and yet in the teeth of a gale howling over their reservation in Devon, the Exeter Chiefs and Munster produced a classic of its kind. The most honourable of draws offered a perfect antidote to those who prefer old-fashioned blood and thunder to a recent deluge of tries behind 80-plus point matches.
Not surprisingly, the tackle count was huge, a grand total of 345 underlining the intensity of the duel. Munster’s refusal to buckle during Exeter’s 22-phase onslaught in the last three minutes allowed them to edge the tackle verdict by one – 173 against 172. A case of two points won for Munster, two lost for the Chiefs. Part Two at Thomond in the New Year is not to be missed.
My Champions’ Cup XV of the weekend:
15 Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues)
14 Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)
13 Sofiane Guitoune (Toulouse)
12 Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)
11 James Lowe (Leinster)
10 Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
9 John Cooney (Ulster)
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)
3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
4 Ian Henderson (Ulster)
5 Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
6 Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
7 Francois Louw (Bath)
8 Matt Kvesic (Exeter Chiefs)