Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
18 November 2014
Monday November 17 2014
A total touring day today, leaving bonny Scotland and heading down via Durham and Newcastle across to the West Country where we spent the night in an Ullswater Hotel, The Macdonald Leeming Hotel, overlooking Ullswater, a very picturesque spot. We were so far out in the countryside that Jack Allen, the coach driver, when we arrived in the dark, did not risk making the sharp turn into the hotel's drive off the main road. WiFii connection has been haphazard here. Hence a few missing days of continuity in this diary.
When our Jack couldn't turn the coach he said he'd 'go up the road a bit to find a place to turn.' Then 10 minutes later he did! It was that dark and the lanes were real 'English countryside' in their narrowness.
In fact we were so far out in the wilderness the only place to eat and have a drink - was - in the hotel! So hey we did just that! Our group enjoyed another night of conviviality together before turning in for an early rest.
Tuesday November 18 2014
I felt this day was one to really remember.
It was another out and back touring day today in the Lake District but there were some very nice rugby touches thrown in at lunchtime.
From Ullswater we wound our way around the edges of some wonderful scenery as the mountains tumbled down into deep lakes. Our excellent guide for the day was Ron Smith, a former high-ranking policeman and a true local, who knew the region like the back of his hand. He told us many stories as we rumbled along, including showing us the waters where, back in the 1960s, Donald Campbell had attempted and then broken the world record for water boat speed on Ullswater in 1955.
On a completely different tack we then motored past some of the farms owned in her time by the great writer Beatrix Potter (she of 'Peter Rabbit' fame); then it was on to see where William Wordsworth 'wandered lonely as a cloud' and wrote and taught.
We paused at Wordsworth's graveyard in the Daffodil Gardens at Grasmere and felt privileged to be there. (This memory at being at one of the great literary shrine's is surely to be placed alongside seeing the memorial poppies in London, the battlefields of France and the Palace at Versailles etc?)
Lunch was in a low-roofed pub called 'The Sally' ('The Salutation') in the village of Threlkeld near Keswick in the Lake District where Ron our guide had organised the former President of The Rugby Football Union, John Owen to talk to us about the set-up, current form and structure of England's current rugby team. Our people leaned forward with interest; as for days now we had, well, not been gloating about the five losses in a row England are living through at the moment but, human nature being what it is, it has been slightly amusing for us Kiwis to observe the wringing of hands from English rugby people.
What might have WE have thought if the All Blacks had EVER lost five tests in a row? (Oops? They did in 1998! AND oops! We lost six in a row in 1949?)
Mr Owen, though concerned at the losses, said he believed England's coach Stuart Lancaster was still on the right track with his squad and team selections this season.
Next to talk to us were two older gents; but both of them had direct rugby links to New Zealand which we found fascinating. David Robinson's craggy face gave away the fact that he was an former player of significance.
He spoke proudly and modestly of being in the winning North-East Counties XV against Ian Kirkpatrick's All Blacks in 1973. But he then took issue a bit with the 'everything is OK' with England rugby at the moment which so many are hanging onto, despite the five losses the rugby nation is biting on at the moment.
The other gent was a really lovely man, John Cusack was his name. He was holding in his hands two jewels of rugby memorabilia from his family. He had a riveting story to go with it.
His family, via the great England fullback of the 1920s, Jim Brough, had a strong connection with the All Blacks. Jim Brough was John Cusack's great uncle.
Jim Brough had played against the 'Invincible' All Blacks at Twickenham early in 1925. He was a fullback and therefore Jim marked none other than our great George Nepia.
At the end of that memorable game, the one where New Zealand's Cyril Brownlie had been sent off, but NZ had still won with 14 men on the field, Nepia and Brough met. They shook hands and exchanged their team colours.
So lo and behold today, our guest brought out George's All Black silver fern emblem from 1925 to show us. It has remained in his family ever since. Plus he had an England Red Rose emblem from one of Brough's other international caps. To see the small pieces of white with the red rose and the black cloth with the silver fern emblem embedded in it, and seeing it so far from anywhere (in Wordsworth country?) and still so lovingly in excellent condition was truly a big part of a memorable day.
The great DB Clarke kicks the last ever Goal From a Mark in a test for NZ and the England are denied a test win by 9-6 in Christchurch.
New South Wales and Australia
63 internationals for Australia 1984–93
As captain of the superb Wallaby World Cup-winning team of 1991, Nick Farr-Jones became one of the best-known men of modern rugby. His authority as a player and captain was crowned when he received the cup at Twickenham from Queen Elizabeth II and held it high for the rugby world to see. For Farr-Jones the 12–6 win over England was a culmination of a long pursuit of success for him and Australian rugby. Looking back, it can be seen that his career was regularly signposted with success, and not just in 1991.
Two significant records tumbled for him in 1990. First, in his seventh season as the Wallaby halfback, he took over from the great John Hipwell as Australia’s most-capped player in that vital position. He also became Australia’s most-capped captain, the World Cup final being his 31st appearance as team leader. And he and his partner Michael Lynagh cruised past John Rutherford and Roy Laidlaw’s old record for most tests together for any country as a scrumhalf–flyhalf combination.
Nick Farr-Jones made his first tour to Fiji in 1984 and played his first test on Twickenham against England. He was an immediate success, and in combination with Mark Ella played a vital role in the Wallaby team that went on to win a Grand Slam over British countries. Two years later he helped Australia win the Bledisloe Cup in New Zealand.
The elegant yet aggressive style of Farr-Jones marked him as one of the world’s most significant modern players. He was possessed of a slick pass (in the Australian scrumhalf tradition of men who had gonr before him; Cyril Burke, Des Connor, Ken Catchpole and John Hipwell), he was a fast and explosive runner, and had a wide tactical knowledge of the game (including the best ways to exploit the blindside). His strength and fitness, enthusiasm and popularity among his fellow players, not to mention his from-the-front style of captaincy made him one of Australia’s best of all time. Many critics also considered him, in his time, the world’s best halfback. Injury around Rugby World Cup time in 1987 restricted his appearances and performances in that series.
Farr-Jones took over the captaincy of Australia in 1988 and although Wallaby teams under his leadership lost a number of series and games, his own form did not diminish. He could count numerous successes as captain, including the World Cup final of course, plus beating England in Australia in two tests in 1988, and beating Scotland, France and New Zealand at least once on their home soil in a little over 18 months.
Nick Farr-Jones also made a tremendous contribution to Australian rugby by his personal example. He has always been a learned rugby thinker and an eloquent speaker. In the face of the enormous popularity of rugby league in Australia he has always represented his game with true style.
After his career as a player was over he also made a significant contribution as a TV commentator and in local politics and business.
How many test matches did Alan Whetton play for the All Blacks? 34,35 or 36?