Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
21 January 2015
On hearing the news that Gareth Anscombe, the former New Zealand Under-20 international, had been included in the first Welsh training squad in the 2015 Rugby World Cup year, got me thinking. While it's sad that New Zealand has lost yet another player to a country off shore it is something we have all had to live with.
The thing is, Anscombe has gone 'first' to Wales to try for a start to his international career. Most of the other top All Blacks who have had time in Wales made the transfer towards the end of their playing days. To cash in - I think the term is!
I only had to flick around a few websites for a few moments - and from my own memory bank - to come up with a more than useful All Black team of relatively recent years who have all had 'reasonably extensive' experience of playing professional club rugby in Wales; (I have put Gareth Anscombe's name in an imaginary 'Welsh-New Zealand team here, as I feel sure the young man, given time, would have come through and had time with the All Blacks.)
Actually when you look at this list he sits in good company...but now he is gone forever. A big rugby decision has been taken by him.
So how's this for a good All Black's 'Welsh' team; Ben Blair (Cardiff Blues), Jonah Lomu (Cardiff Blues), Casey Laulala (Cardiff Blues), Regan King (Llanelli Scarlets), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Shane Howarth (Cardiff), Justin Marshall (Ospreys); Xavier Rush (Cardiff Blues), Filo Tiatia (Ospreys), Simon Maling (Llanelli Scarlets), Jarrad Hoeata (Cardiff Blues), Marty Holah (Ospreys), Campbell Johnstone (Ospreys), Tom Willis (Newport Gwent Dragons) and Dave Hewett (Llanelli Scarlets)
On the reserves bench would be players of real quality like; Ofisa Tonu'u (Newport Gwent Dragons), Jerry Collins (Ospreys) and Aled de Malmanche (Cardiff Blues).
Of the above only Hewett had minimal time with a Welsh club team; there are others of true original New Zealand extraction and who were internationals (after playing for Wales) who could have been considered too; Like Hemi Taylor (A Maori who captained Wales in the 1990s), Dale McIntosh (another NZ born Maori who had 454 games for Pontypridd and was capped by the Welsh too); while Brett Sinkinson, Sonny Parker and Matt Cardy were also all capped after good provincial careers in New Zealand.
The coaching staff of this imaginary team could of course bring together the 'old firm' of Graham Henry and Steve Hansen. And Warren Gatland might have a say as well!!
The question is; have I left anyone of significance out of my team?
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A 48 test veteran Jerry Collins tragically died in a car crash in Southern France aged only 34.
Royal Air Force, Leicester and England
85 internationals for England 1984–96
6 internationals for British Isles 1989-93
Leicester, Newcastle and England
27 internationals for England 1992-98
1 international for British Lions 1997
Two dashing brothers who were regular wingers in England’s selections in the 1980s and 90s.
Dealing first with Rory, who was the elder by nearly six years. He was a dashing wing, as befitted his occupation as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. At the end of his career he had played 85 internationals for England, a record total till beaten by Jason Leonard. His total of test tries scored was also an England record, with 49 scored (plus one in a Lions test) boosting his final total to 50. This placed him second on the all-time test try-scoring record, behind David Campese’s 64 tries. Ironically his final tally of test tries came during a time when England was in a period of playing mostly ten-man rugby. Rory Underwood gained a reputation for being underused on occasions but having a rare talent for scoring tries when the ball did come his way.
Rory was born in Middlesbrough and Tony in Ipoh, Malaysia, the brothers were of part-Chinese origins, a rugby rarity in itself, and they spent some of their childhood in Malaysia. Rory’s first cap was against Ireland in 1984. Most of his caps were won on the left wing, but he could play more than competently on the right side (his English record-equaling total of five tries against Fiji at Twickenham in 1989 came when he was playing on the right wing side).
Rory’s Air Force commitments meant he missed several England tours, which meant his test match tally could have been even higher. This popular and dynamic England star was a member of the England team which contested the three Rugby World Cups, in 1987, 1991 and 1995; he played in three Grand Slam-winning England seasons, plus four Five Nations titles. He played in the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham after scoring four tries in the lead-up games. He also toured with the British Isles to Australia in 1989 and to New Zealand in 1993.
Tony Underwood first came to the fore in 1989 when he appeared for Barbarians Club against the touring All Blacks at Twickenham. He made the England team for a tour to Argentina the following year but did not play an actual test until late in 1992. As his brother Rory was on the other wing (v Canada at Wembley) they became the first pair of brothers to play in an England team since Arthur and Harold Wheatley in 1938.
The forte of Tony’s game was blistering acceleration and a huge confidence to use it well. He toured New Zealand, with his brother in the 1993 British Lions and the two also shared England’s Grand Slam win in 1995. Tony had a second Lions tour, to South Africa in 1997.
At the 1995 World Cup in South Africa Tony had the extremely unenviable task of marking a rampant Jonah Lomu of New Zealand in one of the semi-finals games. Sadly, for England’s hopes at that tournament, and the memory of Tony Underwood as an international player, the video of him being repeatedly trampled underfoot or run around by the giant-sized Lomu, as he went on to score four tries, has been played over and over again. Tony deserved better than this. At his best he was a top player capable of many good things on the field, and like his brother, one of the best wingers England has ever produced.
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