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.
The four 'Home' Unions were beaten on consecutive Saturdays by the rampant ABs! On this day NZ beat Scotland by 29-10
Transvaal and South Africa
29 internationals for South Africa 1993-96
The Springbok flanker who had a relatively short time at the top in test rugby, but who played a huge role in the game in a number of ways. Francois Pienaar is remembered best for receiving the 1995 Rugby World Cup from his President, Nelson Mandela, after winning the dramatic final for South Africa on Ellis Park in 1995. In another completely different way, by his actions, Pienaar also played a significant role in the prevention of rugby going to the rebel professional World Rugby Corporation in the same year.
Pienaar first came into the Springbok team in 1993 against France. He was made captain from the very start of his tests, a rare feat (only Basil Kenyon and Des van Jaarsveld had also done that for South Africa). Still, Pienaar did have a paltry total of experience, just 16 tests, when two years later, he was charged with the task of leading the Springboks into their first World Cup. Added to that was the pressure on him of not failing in a World Cup being played effectively in his new country. The whole of South Africa’s new ‘Rainbow Nation’ looked to Francois Pienaar and the coach Kitch Christie to bring home the gold.
And they certainly did. In an exultant moment for the South Africa nation, who were finding a new way forward, the win over New Zealand, by 15-12 in extra time, was massive lift for the new nation’s confidence. Given the years when South Africa had been scorned for its apartheid policies, what an image was created for the entire world to see when a young white man accepted the trophy from his black leader.
In that moment Francois Pienaar was guaranteed a lifetime’s recognition. He had played well in the tournament, he led his team superbly, had conveyed a confidence all the way through, to the whole country. Seconds after the final whistle he led his team to dipin prayers of gratitude, right in the centre-field at Ellis Park. In other words for the deeply religious country he did everything right.
Yet only months later he was embroiled in the greatest threat the amateur game of rugby had ever faced. The World Rugby Corporation had been formed to seek ways to change the structure of the world rugby scene and change it from its old amateur ways. The world’s top players were targeted with offers of money, contracted sums so large apparently, that they could not be refused. The WRC went hard at securing the South African players for a new world professional circuit. The WRC took the view that because they had won the World Cup South Africa must be the target to lead the new direction.
So the pressure went on to Francois Pienaar. He was offered huge sums to lead all of the other World Cup winners to the new monetary version of rugby. To be fair, leading All Blacks, Wallabies and British and Irish players were also being besieged by WRC and sign up. Pienaar though was the first to crack. He elected to stay with the counter-offer from Louis Luyt of the South African Rugby Union and with other collapses of confidence the strong bid by WRC failed. Had Pienaar gone with the new idea world rugby would have been vastly different. As it transpired the International Rugby Board sensing the groundswell and desires of modern attitudes within months, themselves, had changed the game from being all-amateur to being totally professional.
Francois Pienaar’s career at the top lasted one more year. He led the Springboks on the European tour in the first Springbok tour of the new era and in 1996 he took part in the first Tri Nations series with New Zealand and Australia. He international career ended when, still as skipper, he was carried off at Cape Town in the second test against the All Blacks.
He left the country soon after to become a player/coach at the prestigious Saracens Club in London.
Which well-known sevens rugby coach made this memorable quotation? 'At the Hong Kong sevens bowls and plates are only for eating off - not playing for?'