Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
31 December 2015
WHILE IN SYDNEY IN 2015 TO SEE THE PRE-WORLD CUP BLEDLISLOE CUP GAME I WAS REMINDED WHILE THERE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVOURITE BLEDISLOE CUP STORY
IT EPITOMISES WHAT THE RUGBY SPIRIT OF THE TWO COUNTRIES STANDS FOR;
THE STORY CONCERNS THE 1951 ALL BLACK TEAM WHO WERE ON A KIND OF FORGOTTEN TOUR OF AUSTRALIA….
THOSE WERE THE AMATEUR DAYS WITH VERY LITTLE OR NO MONEY IN POST-WAR NEW ZEALAND, AND THE LUCKY PLAYERS IN THE NEW ZEALAND TEAM RECEIVED JUST GIFTS AND PARCELS TO WISH THEM WELL FROM THEIR CLUBS.……
* BEFORE LEAVING ON THE TOUR THE CANTERBURY UNION PRESENTED ITS TOURING ALL BLACKS WITH NEW SHAVING KITS….
* THE CENTRAL OTAGO RUGBY UNION PRESENTED ITS SOLE PLAYER TOMMY LYNCH WITH A WALLET. WITH HIS INITIALS IN GOLD LETTERING….
*AND THE AUCKLAND UNION PRESENTED ITS ALL BLACK PLAYERS WITH TRAVEL RUGS…TO PUT OVER THEIR KNEES TO COUNTER THE COLD OF THE FLYING BOAT FLIGHT OUT OF EVANS BAY IN WELLINGTON, TO SYDNEY.
IN THOSE YEARS..........IT WAS THE SAME FOR THE WALLABIES;
BEFORE THEIR FIRST POST-WAR TOUR OF GREAT BRITAIN THEIR PLAYERS WERE SENT A LETTER SAYING;
'* FOR THE UPCOMING 30-MATCH TOUR - YOU WILL BE ISSUED WITH ONE PLAYING GAME-DAY JERSEY TO PLAY IN...... ON NO ACCOUNT MUST YOU EXCHANGE YOUR JERSEY OR PART WITH IT IN ANY OTHER WAY.
'*PLEASE ALSO BRING YOU SOME WHITE SHORTS TO PLAY IN,
*A PAIR OF DARK SOCKS TO PLAY IN
* A TOWEL FOR YOUR POST-MATCH CLEANLINESS
*...AND SOME SOAP FOR YOUR PERSONAL USE....
THAT WAS THE WALLABY TEAM NICKNAMED THE 'CLEAN-SKINS' - THOUGH NOT ONLY BECAUSE OF THE TOWELS AND THE SOAP BUT BECAUSE IN THEIR FOUR INTERNATIONALS ON TOUR THEY NEVER HAD THEIR LINE CROSSED.....
BUT BACK TO THE STORY ABOUT THE 1951 ALL BLACKS.
THOSE ALL BLACKS WERE THE FIRST TEAM TO FLY TO THEIR TOUR FROM NEW ZEALAND.
THEY LEFT VIA FLYING BOAT FROM EVANS BAY IN WELLINGTON AND HAD TO FLY TO SYDNEY VIA LORD HOWE ISLAND....THAT WAS TO ALLOW THE LOW-FLYING PLANE TO REFUEL BEFORE FLYING ON TO AUSTRALIA.
WITH REGARDS TO THE GIFTS TO THE 1951 ALL BLACK PLAYERS MY FAVOURITE YARN IS ABOUT ONE OF THE DEBUT PLAYERS IN THAT TEAM
FROM THE BLUFF RUGBY CLUB, IN THE DEEP SOUTH OF NEW ZEALAND (OUR SOUTHERN MOST RUGBY CLUB)
HIS NAME WAS EDDIE ROBINSON.
THE CLUB WAS DOUBLY PLEASED WHEN ROBINSON PLAYED SO WELL ON TOUR HE WAS SELECTED TO MAKE HIS TEST DEBUT IN THE FIRST TEST IN
IT WAS THEN THE BLUFF CLUB REALISED THEY HAD NOT GIVEN EDDIE A DEPARTING GIFT BEFORE THE TOUR.
SO THEY DECIDED TO PAY EDDIE THEIR ULTIMATE TRIBUTE…..
ON THE THURSDAY BEFORE THE SATURDAY TEST IN SYDNEY, THEY PLACED TWO LARGE BUCKETS OF FRESH BLUFF OYSTERS ON THE OVERNIGHT RAILCAR TO CHRISTCHURCH.
ARRIVING ON THE FRIDAY, THE BUCKETS WERE THEN PUT ON THE OVERNIGHT FERRY TO WELLINGTON WHERE THEY WERE IMMEDIATELY TRANSPORTED TO THE EVANS BAY FLYING BOATS DOCK.
ON FRIDAY THE FLYING BOAT TOOK OFF FOR ITS 7-HOUR FLIGHT ACROSS THE TASMAN, THE JOURNEY EXTENDED OF COURSE FOR THE REFUELING AT LORD HOWE ISLAND….
THE FLYING BOATS FINALLY LANDED ON SYDNEY HARBOUR ON EARLY SATURDAY AFTERNOON….
THAT, OF COURSE, WAS TEST MATCH DAY
AFTER COMING THROUGH CUSTOMS THE BUCKETS WERE PUT IN A TAXI WHICH WAS DRIVEN ACROSS THE CITY, IN DRIVING RAIN, TO THE SYDNEY CRICKET GROUND….
THERE, THE BUCKETS WERE TAKEN INTO THE OLD GRANDSTAND AND PLACED OUTSIDE THE ALL BLACK TEAM’S DRESSING ROOM.
OUT ON THE FIELD EDDIE ROBINSON WAS HAVING THE GREATEST DAY OF HIS LIFE…HE WAS PLAYING A BLEDISLOE CUP TEST FOR HIS COUNTRY….!!
THE GAME WAS PLAYED IN A QUAGMIRE;…. IN HIS BOOK “WALLABY
GOLD” , THE WRITER PETER JENKINS SAYS THAT SOME OF THE ALL BLACKS TEAM MANAGEMENT HAD SAID BEFOREHAND THE GAME SHOULD
HAVE BEEN CALLED OFF.
BUT I DOUBT EDDIE ROBINSON WOULD HAVE WANTED THAT.
HE PLAYED AND IN THE MUD AND SLIME THE ALL BLACKS THRASHED THE WALLABIES - BY 8-POINTS-TO NIL!!
AND AS THE PLAYERS CAME UP THE TUNNEL AT THE END OF THE GAME
THERE WERE THE TWO BUCKETS ADDRESSED TO EDDIE ROBINSON….
THE BUCKETS WERE TAKEN INSIDE THE DRESSING ROOM, AND EDDIE OPENED THEM....
HE LOOKED INSIDE AND SAW THE SOUTHEN DELIGHTS; THE LUSH BEAUTIFUL OYSTERS FROM HIS HOME TOWN!
SO WHAT DID HE DO? OF COURSE HE POURED THE STILL-BEAUTIFULLY FRESH AND SUCCULENT CONTENTS RIGHT INTO THE BLEDISLOE CUP ITSELF!
THEN LARGE BOTTLES OF BEER WERE POURED IN OVER THE OYSTERS - AND THE MUDDIED ALL BLACKS, AND A BEAMING EDDIE
ROBINSON, CELEBRATED WITH A BEAUTIFUL, RICH, WINNING “BLEDISLOE CUP COCKTAIL”!!
Andy Haden and Frank Oliver conjured up a lineout dive v Wales in Cardiff to fool the ref into giving NZ a penalty; that later led to a 13-12 AB win.
The famous Scottish rugby commentator, a man who set standards in the art of television commentary which, in the end, gained him worldwide acclaim.
Raised in the Scottish border town of Hawick, where he was a teacher all his working life, young McLaren was a good enough player to earn himself a Scottish trial in the years immediately after his service in World War II. However illness struck him down and during a lengthy stay in hospital he began broadcasting over the hospital radio system.
On his discharge and unable to play anymore he took to rugby commentary. From his beloved Mansfield Park in Hawick he started on a career at the microphone that was to last more than 50 years. His first international call was on radio for a Scottish Districts game v South Africa while during the 1951-52 tour.
His reputation grew quickly and by 1953-54 he was commentating Scottish test matches from Murrayfield. He recalls how that same winter the BBC sent him to Cardiff to observe the great New Zealand radio man Winston McCarthy in action. Bill tells the story of being amazed at how excited McCarthy got during a game. ‘At one stage he nearly fell forward out of the commentary box. I had to hold his coat to keep him in the box!’
The big change for McLaren came in 1959 when, though continuing to be a shcoolmaster, he changed to working part-time for BBC television. For the first time TV commentary of rugby was turned into the unique form it is today. No more endless verbiage as required in radio description, instead an attention came to identification of players by face and number; there was explanations given of refereeing decisions; plus identification of the placement of the game on the field. And most uniquely to McLaren, entertaining background and statistical information about the personalities in the game. The man himself filled large sheets of background notes on every player taking part in every fixture he worked on. The ‘sheets’ became sought after souvenirs and sometimes were auctioned for charity at rugby dinners.
McLaren lived by his attention to preparation; he often told budding broadcasters ‘the secret of good broadcasting is never to neglect your homework.’
He did all his work to perfection and became a huge personality in the game. It was all done with a gentle Scottish accent and cheerful attitude to life which was admired with affection all over the world. His influence over all things was perhaps summed up by one Scottish player, lamenting a narrow loss one time in the Five Nations Championship. Said the player, ‘aye, we’d have played much better if Bill McLaren had been commentatin’.’
Bill continued at the microphone until he was close to 80 years of age. He retired from BBC TV in 2002 after exactly 50 years of international broadcasting. The reaction to his departure was amazing, with much media coverage in press, radio and TV and, of course from his many fans around the world who had learned much more about rugby because of his lifetime’s commitment to it.
Which nation came third in the 1987 Rugby World Cup played in New Zealand?