Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
16 August 2014
On a recent away rugby trip (to Nanjing for the Summer Youth Olympic Games rugby sevens) a group of us were sitting around, like reporters do, having a drink and chewing the chat. During the course of the conversation I picked up two or three great stories - all of which will be drip-fed into this 'yarns' selection on the www.keithquinnrugby.com website.
There was one great yarn which was old and which I shall endeavour to re-tell here though with names left out to perhaps protect the 'innocent.'
It concerns an international sports touring team coming in to play a midweek game in a large New Zealand city. In the media group which was following the team was the tour's radio reporter - who was, if you get my drift - a bit of a lad.
The night before the game he met a young woman in the hotel's house bar and after they chatted away, he boldly asked her out. She was keen to accept his kind thought but had other plans for that night. 'What about tomorrow?' she then said.
The reporter had to think quickly - but he said 'yes, let's do something together, no problems at all.'
He did this knowing his radio network back home would be expecting his reports every quarter of the tour game on the following night.
He then came clean and explained to the woman that he was a radio reporter who had to do reports 'tomorrow night.' But he added, 'that's no problem. The game will kick-off at 7.30pm and it will be over by 9pm and we can go out after that. In fact why don't you come to my room and we'll have dinner there and I'll show you how I do the reporting of a top game.'
So at 7pm in his room on the next night, the intrepid reporter straightened his tie, smoothed the table-cloth on the dinner table, opened the door for his new lady friend - and tuned in the room's TV set to local coverage of the game.
And while he turned on the charm for the deeply impressed young lady the hotel's room phone rang every 20 minutes and he was able to tell his home audience of progress in the game. All done while watching the TV screen and holding a glass of champagne in his spare hand. While she gazed at him in wonder and ate canapés! (I made that last bit up - my mind is racing here!)
As the effects of the champers kicked in his reports did get more colourful, especially when rain poured down at the ground and he had to pretend to his fans back home (and his bosses presumably) that he was 'out in the elements' bringing them the dramatic change in conditions as it happened. Yes, he really did make it sound like he was 'out there braving the rain and the possibility of approaching snow.' They were saying that too on the telly coverage.
The only problem was - and this was our man's near downfall - was that at the ground as the game raced towards its climax the rain-storm really did get worse. Soon it knocked out the TV coverage completely. Back at the hotel suddenly a blank screen appeared - and the cosy hotel setting suddenly became a scene of a man's panic and a young women's bewilderment.
It all ended happily of course. I have no details of how the lady, or her virtue, survived the night's drama but the reporter's career did. He was a man who knew how to work any scene it seems. It actually all worked out well.
When the pictures faded out in his room and phone rang shortly after with urgency, he ignored the call.
Instead he coolly sipped another glass of champagne and said, 'if the picture is cut at the ground for the TV coverage it must have also cut the radio coverage too. Well that's what I'll tell them when the picture comes back on.'
That of course is precisely what happened. After a minute or two the TV cameras spluttered and came back on, showing only empty seating and a few stragglers from the grandstands heading home.
When the TV commentator who was actually there in the weather in the sleet and snow, spoke up and apologised at missing the end of the game, he blamed it on the tempest and gave the final score.
That was enough for the hotel correspondent. He jotted the score down, waited for the phone from his station to ring again, gave his final summary when it did (while of course not forgetting to mention how cold and bleak he had now become himself)
Then he clinked glasses with the young lady and reached again to the bottle for a top-up.
And he also went into sports broadcasting history as the first man to broadcast a match summary while he was, shall we say, multi-tasking!
(And I know the name of the reporter concerned. He must never say anything bad about any of my friends ever again!)
Born in Stratford, Taranaki and All Black prop Mark Allen was forever known as 'Bull' (named after an American TV character). He became so popular Rugby Park in Taranaki was re-named the 'Bull Ring' for a time.
OLYMPIC GAMES RUGBY
The advent of the Rugby World Cup in 1987 seemed to silence the calls which had surfaced from time to time for the return of rugby union for the fifth time to the programme at the modern Olympic Games.
Three countries took part in the rugby competition at the Paris Games in 1900, France beating Germany, 27–17, in one match and Britain, 27–8, in the other. Most of the British team came from the Moseley club. Its loss to France may seem a surprising result, given the modest standard of French rugby at that time, but the British players had spent 24 hours traveling from London before match day and were reportedly exhausted. France was awarded the gold medal, Germany the silver and Great Britain the bronze.
At the fourth Olympic Games in 1908 in London, only two nations took part: Australia, which was touring Britain at the time, and Britain itself. The English county champion side of that season, Cornwall, was chosen to represent Britain. Australia won 32–3 at White City Stadium in London.
At Antwerp in 1920, at the first Games after World War I, the underdogs, the United States, won the gold medal, beating France in the final by 8–0. The French team had been the favourite to win, as five of the team had recently appeared in the Five Nations championship.
In both 1908 and 1920 only two teams had entered the games, but in 1924 in Paris a proper, if small, tournament took place. Most publications claim that France beat Romania 61–3 (although the French records say 59–3). The United States also beat Romania, by 37–0. In the final the United States met France.
The game was a classic, which the Americans won, 17–3. More than 30,000 French spectators watched in alarm as their team suffered such a humiliation at the hands of the Americans (many of whom had never played rugby before). As the end grew nearer and the result was inevitable, the Americans were jeered by the crowd and one visiting supporter was knocked out after being hit in the face with a walking stick. At the medal ceremony, the playing of the United States’ national anthem was drowned out by the booing and cat-calling of the crowd. Police protection was needed for the departure of the American team from the Stade Colombes.
Before the 1928 Games there was a vote by members of the International Olympic Committee over whether rugby should be included at Amsterdam. IOC members were inclined towards individual events rather than team sports, and there was also a demand for a greater opportunity for women to take part. There was a theory, too, that the British rugby-playing countries did not strongly endorse the sport’s continuation at the Games. One of rugby's greatest supporters on the IOC, Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France, had retired in 1925.
The vote was lost, and rugby never regained an official place at the Olympics. In the 1936 Summer Olympic games in Berlin, the so-called 'Hitler Games' rugby was included again, but as a 'Demonstration' sport. Four countries took part; Germany, Italy, France and Romania. France beat Romania 19-14 in the final.
In the years ahead a number of countries expressed support for the 15-aside version of rugby to return to the Olympic programme. There were especially strong attempts in 1980 (endorsed by the Soviet Union) and in 1988 (endorsed by South Korea) to have rugby re-admitted to the Games programme. Both attempts failed.
A significant moment for rugby next came in 1994 when the IRB was endorsed into the Olympic movement as a full sporting member.
In 2002 the International Rugby Board, encouraged perhaps by the presence of an ex-Belgian rugby international, Jacques Rogge, as the new IOC President, rugby tried again but this time with the idea of sevens rugby being included for the Beijing Summer Games of 2008.
This again failed, it was said that one factor being that women's teams were not included in the IRB planning. By 2009 with a World Cup for women having been (hurredly) put in place the passage for sevens to be included in the Rio de Janeiro Games of 2016 was made easier.
This happened in October 2009 in Copenhagen when the full IOC Congress endorsed the sevens version for both men and women. In fact the first appearance of sevens rugby will be at the Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China in August, 2014.
[Additional note; There is one player in Olympic rugby history who deserves special mention. He is Daniel Carroll, the speedy wing from Sydney, Australia, who was a gold medalist with the Australian team at London in 1908, and later settled in America. He played for the United States in the Olympics of 1920 and won a rugby gold medal for that country, becoming the first and only player to win two Olympic rugby gold medals. He was also coach of the 1924 United States team.]
When did an international rugby team play a full game and then travel to another country to play a second full game on the same day?