Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
28 January 2015
This story might even read like a corny sports joke - but I saw it in a pile of my notes not so long ago - its a boxing story from a long time back - and is worth retelling here I think.
You might recall a very tough American boxing heavyweight called Chuck Wepner from back in the 1970s. He was a brawling, big hitting white guy who came from the wrong side of the tracks (After him it was said the 'Rocky' character was written by Sylvester Stallone)
Wepner won the right for a world Heavyweight title fight against the great Muhammad Ali and after a month's excellent training he became very confident he could beat Ali.
It got to the point where the day before the fight (in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975) Wepner went to the city's best lingerie store and bought his wife a beautiful blue negligee. He took it back to his wife and gave it to her with the words 'When I get back to the hotel after the fight you'll need this. That's because you'll want to look good as you'll be sleeping with the heavyweight boxing champion of the world!'
In the fight the next night Wepner did put up a great showing. He even knocked Ali down in the ninth round (The story goes he went back to his manager at the end of the round and said, 'Al, start the car. We're going to the bank, we're gonna be millionaires after this!')
But Ali regained his composure and over the next few rounds he beat the courageous challenger to the point where the referee stopped the contest with 19 seconds left to go in the 15th round. Wepner by then looked a mess; his face was badly puffed and cut and he had a broken, bleeding nose.
When he got back to the hotel it was his wife who had the last word. There she was wearing in the blue negligee and looking an absolute picture.
It was she and not brave Chuck who then uttered the classic post-fight line, the one which has gone into boxing legend; 'Chuck baby,' she said, in her New York accent, 'What happens now? How does it work? Do I go to his room or does he come to mine?
True story! I've seen Wepner tell it on TV.
Yes it's true! Number eight forward Greg Cornelsen scores 4 tries as the Wallabies thrash NZ 30-16 on Eden Park.
Headquarters for the game of rugby in Samoa. Apia Park is a ground with a colourful past. Just as Twickenham in London was once a market garden, and cabbages were grown at Lancaster Park in Christchurch during World War I, Apia Park in the capital city of Samoa was once a horse racing track and a golf course.
Situated close to the city, the ground was originally owned by the occupying German Government. The first horse racing was held on Kaiser Wilhelm II’s birthday in 1910. Later, Chinese, Melanesian and Samoan labourers ploughed the swampy land, aided by oxen-drawn carts. They levelled an inner field and plans for rugby were drawn up. The locals did not worry that a large, shady tree was left intact on what was to be inside the field of play.
Horse racing died out in 1939. The first rugby game on the park was in 1924 when an Apia Selection played a Pago Pago Naval XV. Apia won 33-0. During the same year a Fijian team on its way to play Tonga stopped in Apia. Its two games against the locals were split one win each. It is not recorded how the teams coped with playing around the tree!
These days the rebuilt ground, with its superb backdrop of palm trees and other native flora and fauna, must be one of the prettiest in the world.
Apia Park has always been a highly significant place for sport in Samoa. In 1991 before the advent of a home TV network, crowds used to come to the ground and sit for hours overnight waiting to watch on an imported giant TV screen the matches of (Western) Samoa at the World Cup in Britain.
For years the field was also used as a golf course, but in 1975 the inherent dangers of people walking near such a course led them to shift to a new venue, at the Royal Samoan Golf Club. Only then for the first time could rugby truly claim the grounds.
In 2007, Apia Park was one of the main venues for the 2007 Pacific Games. In 2015 it will play host many events at the Youth Commonwealth Games, the opening and closing ceremonies. It will also host the All Blacks from New Zealand for a much anticipated game against Manu Samoa. The ground has a capacity of 15,000.
Which Irish rugby player of modern vintage has the nickname of '36?'