There was a time when the stinginess of the Scottish Rugby Union knew no bounds, when players were given one pair of socks per year and instructions to hand them back with the rest of the kit at the end of the season, writes.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, concerning one of the very few who played in the last match before The Great War in 1914 and survived to reappear for the next one in 1920.
After losing six of their team in the ‘war-to-end-all-wars’, the SRU took penny-pinching to unplumbed depths by refusing to grant the returning hero any socks for the next match in 1920 on the basis that he had not returned the pair they gave him six years earlier.
The story springs to mind over the SRU’s initial refusal to make a donation to Doddie Weir’s charity, set up by the Scottish Lion to fund research into Motor Neurone Disease, which he has been fighting with typical humour and stoicism for the last two years.
The Welsh Rugby Union took an equally mean-spirited stance, saying they were happy to raise awareness for the disease, but evidently not happy enough to make a direct contribution.
That they had billed Saturday’s friendly against Scotland in Cardiff as being for the Doddie Weir Cup made their refusal all the harder to understand, what with all that guff about the rugby brotherhood.
Once the word got out and social media went into overdrive, both unions were left with no option but to bang their heads together before issuing a joint statement saying how happy they were to be donating a ‘six-figure sum’ from a match expected to generate around €2.2m.
All’s well that ends well and Doddie’s charity will be at least €110,000 better off. But why did they almost have to be shamed into doing the decent thing?
Following well-worn yellow brick road to make most of career
The sun set on the British Empire many moons ago but nobody seems to have told those responsible for repairing the wheels of the low-slung chariot at Twickenham.
How splendidly appropriate, therefore, that the latest ‘import’ to the England squad should go by a name more synonymous with British imperialism than any other, so much so that they named a fertile slice of southern Africa after him: Rhodesia.
Michael Rhodes, pictured, may not be related to Cecil but the archetypal colonialist would no doubt have viewed the anglicising of his namesake as a delayed spin-off from the old fellow’s land grab more than 120 years ago.
How appropriate, too, that the young Rhodes should come from Durban, still referred to in some ageing circles as ‘the last outpost of the British Empire.’
Ironically, he had no English parent or grandparent to offer him an alternative route straight into Test rugby elsewhere. After the best part of a decade in the service of the Sharks, Stormers, Golden Lions and Western Province, Rhodes joined Saracens without any ambition to wear a red rose.
He had left his “international aspirations behind in South Africa” and had no intention of challenging for an England place: “I didn’t even know there was a three-year qualification.’’
Rhodes is not a carpet-bagger seeking a flag of convenience but a professional following a well-worn yellow brick road from the colonies to make the most of a short career. The 30-year-old Saracens flanker had spoken about the prospect of a Test debut against the Springboks at Twickenham on Saturday only to miss the final cut.
If and when his time comes, Rhodes will be the 25th player from countries across what used to be the British Empire to win England caps in the last 10 years, through ancestry or residence. The full list:
Full-back/wing: Delon Armitage (Trinidad), Marland Yarde (St Lucia), Semesa Rokoduguni (Fiji), Nick Abendanon (South Africa), Denny Solomona, Lesley Vainikolo (both New Zealand).
Centre: Riki Flutey, Shontayne Hape, Ben Te’o (all New Zealand), Manu Tuilagi (Samoa), Brad Barritt (South Africa).
Front row: Matt Stevens (South Africa), David Paice (Australia), Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley (both New Zealand).
Second row: Mauritz Botha (South Africa)
Flankers: Brad Shields, Teimana Harrison (both New Zealand), Hendrie Fourie (South Africa), Don Armand (Zimbabwe), Steffon Armitage (Trinidad)
No 8: Nathan Hughes (Fiji), Thomas Waldrom (New Zealand), Billy Vunipola (Australia).
A few too many broken bones mean only three (Hartley, Te’o and Shields) are in the current squad. Ireland have five (CJ Stander, Bundee Aki, Rob Herring, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux), Scotland four (Alan Dell, Willem Nel, Ben Toolis, Simon Berghan), Wales two (Hadleigh Parkes, Gareth Anscombe).
Bringing oval ball to the Oval Office
When Ireland return to the scene of their glory at Soldier Field on Saturday, Mr Trump will be otherwise engaged, addressing a rally in Pensacola, Florida. Campaign organisers say he will “discuss the booming economy, his tough stance on immigration, free-market solutions for healthcare and more”.
Whether that extends to any mention of Ireland-Italy remains to be seen but at least two of his presidential predecessors will have a fair idea of what’s going on should they find the rugby more appealing than Trump on the stump by the seaside.
George W Bush wasn’t slow to make his presence felt when he played the game at Yale in the late 60s. A photograph in the Yale yearbook for 1969 showing him trying to slug an opponent bore the caption: ‘George Bush delivers an illegal but gratifying right hook on an opposing ball-carrier.’
Bill Clinton’s flirtation with rugby at Oxford at the same time passed without anyone really noticing. “Being an American, I didn’t know the rules,” he is said to have said. “I was the biggest in the team and the coach said: ‘Go out there and get in someone’s way.’ So that’s what I did.”
Another American who studied at Oxford 10 years before Clinton did more than get in someone’s way. A Texan, he won a Blue in the boxing ring and was a regular first-team member of the Merton College XV before embarking on a career as a film star and singer-songwriter.
He’s still going strong at 82: Kris Kristofferson.
Whitelock’s fast-track to landmark
Throughout his stratospheric career, Gareth Edwards never missed a match for Wales and yet it still took him ten years to play his 50th international, at Twickenham in February 1978. At that rate a century would have taken him to the age of 40.
It can now be done in half the time as the Australian prop Sekope Kepu demonstrated in Yokohama last weekend with his 100th Test for the Wallabies. As with just about everything else in the game, All Blacks have a track record of getting there in record time.
Kieran Read reached the landmark during the Lions series, less than nine years after his debut. Nobody has done it faster than Sam Whitelock, another current All Black centurion who got there last summer in eight years, two months and six days.
While it says a great deal about their durability in a sport of ever-increasing physical ferocity, it says even more about the endless proliferation of international fixtures.
Time to get shirty with latest kit guff
Some of the guff kit manufacturers dream up to describe their newest creation makes you wonder whether the jerseys could win Tests on their own without the inconvenience of putting a human inside them.
The latest Wales jersey, for example, claims to ‘support ball retention’ and boasts of ‘ventilated underarm panels with four-way stretch offering maximum breathability and player mobility.’ Sounds like a deodorant dream.
More of the same came spouting forth in Tokyo yesterday at the launch of a new All Black jersey, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one given that it’s hard to change an all black strip without making it less than all black.
The new one, so they say, is an ‘industry first,’ boasting ‘unparalleled fit, strength and speed.’ The publicity bumph refers to a white collar which isn’t a white collar as ‘a nod to the heritage.’
More like a nod to replica sales.
Scots badly need to up intensity
Scotland centre Huw Jones, pictured, must have a short memory, or a selective one or both.
Of Saturday’s phoney friendly against Wales, he said:
“Whenever home nations face each other, it’ll always be intense.
It’s a sort of derby mentality, I suppose. The intensity will be right up there.”
When Jones and Scotland last appeared in Cardiff on Six Nations business earlier in the year, the intensity turned out to be so low as to be subterranean.
The Scots capitulated without firing a shot, losing 34-7.