Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
9 January 2015
Browsing through rugby things in the New Zealand summer (as you do!) I found this amazing shot of Tommy Gentles a Springbok test halfback from 1955-58. (see attached photo) Get a look at how teeny this man was! The records show that he stood 1.60metres tall (that's about five feet 3 inches. His weight was a little over 57kgs = 9 stone. The photo was taken before a rugby test match in 1955 when Tommy made his debut against the touring British Isles team. Dare I suggest rather than in the dressing room as the caption for the photograph suggested it was taken perhaps in a studio before the official team photograph. But I met this man...
In 1996 I was the tour TV commentator to South Africa with Sean Fitzpatrick's All Blacks. My host commentator friend from SuperSport as we went from game to game was the great Hugh Bladen. Right from the start of the tour Hugh gently badgered me to speak at the famous Wanderers Club in Johannesburg's pre-test function later that month. This I agreed to do and it was a truly splendid event - and an honour to be at.
When I rose to speak I tried to touch on what the resumption of a full test series between the All Blacks and the Springboks meant (the two nations not having met in a series since 1981) - especially to New Zealanders who would be watching my call on TV of the 1996 fourth test over the following weekend back at home. I harked back to watching the Springboks play the All Blacks as a kid in Wellington in 1956 in the second test - that was 40 years earlier. I tied my speech into the fact that at 5am on the morning of the second test, as an eight year old, I had crept into a place in the queue on the footpath outside the ground, kept for me overnight by my oldest brother George and his mate Bob Gregory. We wanted only the best place to watch the test, and that would be on the Athletic Park embankment which you had to really commit to get in those far-off days.
At the 1996 luncheon I felt quite emotional re-telling that story, as going to that game and feeling the excitement it and that whole tour engendered, and later listening on the radio to the vital fourth test in Auckland, had had a massive influence on how I wanted my future life's direction to go.
Is it too much to tell you that when I finished speaking and stood back from the podium the Wanderer's crowd of 600 gave me a standing ovation. I was very proud I can tell you - and I can still feel the strength's of Hughie hug when I got off the stage!
All of us then stood around - as you do at rugby lunches and yarned away. I must have shaken the hands of 100 smiling South African men (no women there as I recall!) who came up and chatted. It was fun to be at.
But the best part was when a stranger in the crowd said to me,"I bet you don't know who this?' and I turned and immediately recognised his friend. It was Tommy Gentles. Well, at his height and with his distinctive bespectacled look how could I ever have forgotten him? He had played in that game I had queued to see!
It was lovely to meet him and we had quite chat. Of course I marveled at how short he was and all that - but at the same time my admiration for him grew as I tried to put into perspective his size as he stood next to me, while remembering what a brutal game that second test had been at Wellington. The Springboks had won by 8-3. (George, Bob and I had stumped home in a very gloomy mood afterwards.)
After our chat and it came time for Tommy and I to part he said the loveliest thing, 'Nice to meet you Quinn,' he said, 'You made me cry here today.'
I have never forgotten the outright thrill of such a compliment.
But really, when you think of it memories of the old days should do that for all of us when we hark back to the games we saw and played in the good old days - when there was room in the game for huge men who wore the big shirts - but also for little guys too - who proved they too had big hearts.
[Footnote I; Tommy Gentles played 6 tests for the Springboks between 1955-58. He also, believe it or not, played professional rugby league for a time for Wigan in England. He died in 2011]
[Footnote II;My brother George and his friend Bob Gregory are still mates and are in regular touch. Bob is one of my best friends too. Bob and I were at TWO lunches before Christmas this year. Both men are distinguished academics with the title of 'Professor' ahead of their names; George in Canberra and Bob at in Wellington and Hong Kong. Bob played representative rugby for Wellington in the 1960s.]
[Footnote III; Hugh Bladen is hugely popular still at the microphone in South Africa. His distinctive TV calls are heard regularly all over the world I love the guy.]
A 48 test veteran Jerry Collins tragically died in a car crash in Southern France aged only 34.
A powerful and popular rugby club in the south of France. The club has had great success in the French club championship winning eight times: in 1930, 1945, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1976, 1982 and 1988.
The 1930 ﬁnal was one of the most dramatic for the club. One of its players, 18-year-old wing Michel Pradie, was so badly injured in a qualifying match that he died that night in hospital. In the ﬁnal in Bordeaux against the Quillan team, the score was 0–0 at full-time. In extra time the Agen fullback Marius Guiral, who had replaced Pradie, seized the ball and drop-kicked a goal from 45 metres. Agen won 4–0 amid scenes of high emotion and relief. That night the president of the FFR said the dropped goal had the ‘breath of poor Michel Pradie carrying it towards victory’.
In 1945 Agen won again with two of its strongest club personalities in the team: the indomitable Albert Ferrasse (later president of the FFR) and Guy Basquet.
The 1966 ﬁnal was one to forget more than savour. Agen beat Dax by 9–8, but the game was so full of dirty play that the Minister of Youth and Sports was moved to ask ofﬁcially what the FFR intended to do about it.
The federation accordingly stepped in and suspended three participants in the game for life! (The suspensions were lifted after one year.)
In the 1976 ﬁnal Agen won again by 13–10, but only after extra time. By this time the team had René Benesis, Daniel Dubroca, and Alain Plantefol, all current or future French internationals. Its opponent that year was the formidable Béziers club, which won so heavily in the championship in that decade.
In 1984 the club was not quite so lucky. Again the two teams in the ﬁnal were Béziers and Agen. Again extra time was needed before Béziers won 3–1 on penalties after a 21–21 draw.
Agen’s most recent win was in 1988 when the prominent internationals Bérot, Lacombe, Sella, Montlaur, Berbizier, Erbani, Benetton, Gratton, Seigne and Dubroca gave the Agen team a star-studded lineup. That year it beat Tarbes 9–3. The two rival hookers, Dubroca (Agen) and Dintrans (Tarbes), captained the two teams.
More than a rugby club, Agen has been one of the strong power centres of French rugby. The elevation of Albert Ferrasse to the presidency of the FFR ensured that. The town hosted an International Rugby Board meeting
in 1989. Several internationals have been held on Agen’s home ground, the Stade Armandie, which was renovated to host games for the 1991 and 1999 Rugby World Cups.
In 2002 Agen made a bold attempt to win their 9th French Club Championship. In a glorious final at Stade de France the game went to extra time but Biarritz won 25.22
In 1987 and 2011 the All Blacks were the first rugby nation to win the World Cup twice; but which country was the first to win the World Cup's THIRD place match twice?