Croke Park, February 28, 2009: A headless English half-back charges an Irish prop between the shoulder blades.
From his perch up in the stands, England manager Martin Johnson, his face contorted in snarling fury, bangs a fist at Danny Care’s stupidity.
The referee, Craig Joubert from South Africa, gives Care a yellow card and Ireland a penalty which Ronan O’Gara nails in what would become a one-point home win.
Twickenham, February 22, 2014: A headless English half-back hits the Irish scrum-half 20 minutes into a titanic Test with a tackle which is both late and illegal – no use of the arms. Owen Farrell is guilty on both counts, a double whammy that ought to have added up to ten minutes in the bin.
The referee, the self same Craig Joubert, keeps his cards in his pocket. Four minutes later, instead of sitting in the bin, Farrell opens the scoring with a long-distance penalty. Whether England’s alternative kicker, Billy Twelvetrees (‘36’ as former Leicester team-mate Geordan Murphy nicknamed him) we shall never know.
Care made a confession pre-match about the Croker incident: ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get ‘Johnno’s’ face out of my head.’ Scoring the winning try has even up his personal score but when England dissect the video one question will leap out at them: How did Farrell get away with that?
Maybe not even Mr Joubert can answer that one.
Until the last minute in Rome, the fly half they call ‘Wee Dunky’ had only dropped two goals in his professional life for Glasgow, the last of them against Ulster almost 30 months ago. Duncan Weir’s towering 40-metre strike, delivered in defiance of Sergio Parisse’s posse of leaping Italians, ought to spare Scotland another wooden spoon.
As a kid, Jake Ball dreamt of bowling a cricket ball as fast as the fastest bowler the game had seen, Jeff Thomson. At 15, he decided to follow the dream all the way to “Thommo’s” Australia and so the family emigrated from the boy’s native Royal Berkshire.
Jake had played a bit of rugby but cricket was his thing. In next to no time, he bowled his way into the Western Australia under-19 team and while trying to knock a batsman’s block off was hardly for softies, he began to miss the “physicality of rugby”.
So Jake reversed his decision, joined the nearest rugby club and got a trial for the Western Force Super XV academy. They told him that at 95kg (15 stone) he was too light.
He refused to be put off, bulked up and when his one-year contract at the Force ran out, the Scarlets nipped in after discovering that Ball’s father was born in Pwllheli.
And on Friday night the Jeff Thomson wannabe introduced himself at short notice as the new giant of Welsh rugby with a powerful role in the home win over France. And to think he hadn’t played a full Pro 12 match as a professional until the Scarlets beat Munster in Cork 15 months ago.
At 6ft 6in and 19 stone, Ball stands out in any crowd, even at altitude among the skyscrapers of the Six Nations. A white headgear, orange boots and a wondrous ginger beard make him stand out all the more. You could not make it up.
The fact that France had booked themselves into Celtic Manor, the five-star hotel used by the Ryder Cup in 2010, might offer some sort of clue why they spent Friday night in a permanently bunkered state.
Philippe Saint-Andre, truly the picture of dejection after enduring the hapless attempts of his team to escape the cavernous hazard of the Millennium Stadium, sounded like Inspector Clouseau after a clueless day.
“Two silly penalty and one easy try,” he said in utter despair. “Two easy penalty we miss. After we have two opportunity to score try. We take a yellow card in the second half. Silly. The Welsh team did not have to do much to win.”
True. And as for the Silly-Billys, Saint-Andre will be speaking to them this week, one by one.
Could take all day.
The grand old tales of Anglo-Irish skullduggery and subterfuge in the cause of one upmanship have been told ad infinitum but a new one, at least new to me, emerged the other day from an impeccable source in the grand old county of Derry.
It came straight from one of the hardest men ever to box his corner in a fixture which has never been short of hard men – Stewart McKinney. One of the invincible 1974 Lions, the fearless Dungannon flanker lined up against England six times throughout the Seventies, winning the first four.
“Just before one England match, I split an eye in training which wasn’t a problem until the word got out in one of the papers,” he said from his home in the north-west. “It reported which eye had been hurt and I was worried that Frannie Cotton or Mike Burton or any other English forward would hit me on the bad eye.
“So on the Friday night I used some mascara to hide the cut and put a plaster over the good eye. It worked a treat because you know what? Frannie saw the plaster and smacked me one on the wrong eye…”
And they say that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?
Alain Rolland blows the final whistle at the Millennium Stadium to bring the curtain down on his internationalrefereeing career.Picture: Inpho
How ironic that the last critical decision of Alain Rolland’s last international should confirm a try for the player he sent off during the World Cup semi-final against France in October 2011, Sam Warburton.
Wales, it is fair to say, has never forgiven Ireland’s longest-serving referee for what he did to their captain at Eden Park. The fact that Rolland merely enforced the law and had the courage to do so on such a momentous occasion was somehow lost in the emotional maelstrom.
One apocryphal story revolved around a gorge near Cardiff. ‘Bungee-jumping £5,’ the advertisement read. ‘Alain Rolland — free of charge. No strings attached…’
Who says the Welsh never bear a grudge…?
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