A limerick a week #131

Wyn by name, win by nature…

Several years ago I read an article about rugby’s Sir Ian McGeechan. The author introduced it by writing that, as he’d grown older, he appreciated more and more the decency of a person above their achievements. McGeechan, he went on to say, was not only one of the most fundamentally decent of people, but also one who had achieved remarkable things.

I mentioned this later to a work colleague on whom I reported in performance appraisals and his reply was mischievous; did it matter if he didn’t achieve anything during the course of a year providing that he showed, instead, what a thoroughly decent chap he was? Er, that would be a ‘No’!

McGeechan was, by chance, one of the TV studio summarisers last weekend during Scotland’s epic draw with England in the final Six Nations rugby game of the season. I wonder if he’d watched the earlier game that day, when Wales demolished the Irish team to claim the tournament’s Triple Crown, Championship and Grand Slam? If he had, then he would have seen a kind act courtesy of the Welsh captain.

As reported on the WalesOnline web site, the Welsh and Irish teams were both uber-pysched and totally focused prior to the kick-off, seeking to get the pre-match preliminaries out of the way before tearing into each other. The rain was falling heavily, so it was cold and wet and the lad selected as the Welsh mascot was shivering badly as he stood in front of Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh lock forward and captain.

Despite the formalities and his focus on the game ahead, Jones noticed this and took time-out to take off his jacket and wrap it around the youngster before laying into the Welsh anthem with only a slightly less savage demeanour than that which later put the Irish to the sword. Apparently no-one who knows him was in the least surprised by Jones’ thoughtfulness. And what a win in the game itself! Great achievement underwritten by sheer decency. I like that.

When la vita turns out non è bella
In the rain without an umbrella,
Wyn Jones is the guy
Who’ll help you stay dry
‘Cos the bloke’s just a real decent fella!

(‘Yes’, I do know that in his case Wyn is part of a double first name and not part of his surname, but, please, grant me some poetic licence!)

Postscript: Technically, I was a reasonably good rugby player in my day, but a bit too soft and small even by the less-than-gargantuan average size of players back then.

I played hooker and modelled myself on the Irish stalwart Ken Kennedy who had developed the role of hooker from one of a fat violent plodder who only scrummaged to that of a mobile player who could pass, kick, tackle and run with the ball.

(I was stunned a couple of years ago – in a good way – to be told by a former school-days teammate who now follows Saracens RFC, that their hooker, the South African international Schalk Brits, played much the same way that I did. Wow! It might be factual b******s, but as compliments go, it doesn’t get much better!)

Actually, I was a county player at schoolboy level and good enough later to get picked to play for Scottish Universities and a couple of invitation teams before giving up in my early 20s due to my dislike of psychopaths and rugger-b*****s. (Oh, and there was also that occasion when I couldn’t sit my exams because I’d spent all term training, playing and touring!)

The Scottish Universities XV, 1981, pictured on the lawn by King’s College, Aberdeen. Yours truly is second right on the back row.

The Scottish Universities’ shirt design, above, was in the style of a rugby league jersey. It was, for those days, a none-too-subtle, two-fingered salute to the Scottish Rugby Union as it had refused to support the team financially because the coach, Mal Reid (suited and booted in the pic), was a former rugby league professional.

(There is an interesting-if-old article about Mal here. The former Glasgow player referred to in the piece, Walter Malcolm, is pictured, above, in his younger days immediately to my right.)

I’ll allow myself a couple more anecdotes from those days:

I had a false start to my tertiary educational experience which is why, although I am a graduate of The University of Dundee, my academic not-quite-alma-mater was in London. And it just happens that as a callow 18-year-old, I travelled from the big city to Dublin to attend a girlfriend’s 21st birthday party.

Her dad, Bobby, was a past-President of Wanderers rugby club, a team that shared the old Landsdowne Road rugby ground with the Landsdowne club itself. So, it was no surprise that I found myself cheering Wanderers in a game that Saturday and was bought beers in their clubhouse after the match by Bobby (who knew everyone and more on the south side of Dublin). We hadn’t been there long when he said “Come on Phil, I’ll introduce you to Robbie”.

Now, I recognised ‘Robbie’ before I’d been told his surname, it was Robbie McGrath, the then Irish international scrum-half. “Phil”, said Bobby, “this is Robbie McGrath. Robbie, this is Phil. Phil plays rugby too”. “Great” was the reply “and who do you play for?”. If only I’d thought to lie, but I told him the truth: “Er, North East London Polytechnic second team”. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. If McGrath had thought to laugh out loud, then he hid it well and was a generous and encouraging soul. A terrific player and a decent bloke too!

I dropped out from the polytechnic at the end of my first term before enrolling at Dundee for the following autumn and, after a year or so, I was picked for the university’s first team.

In those days, penalties around the defenders 25m line were often ‘run’ by the attacking team and not kicked for goal (muddy grounds and no kicking tee made it harder to slot home any kicks).

When penalties were ‘run’, the opposing scrum-half would tap the ball and pass it to the so-called pivot whose back was turned to the opposition. The scrum-half would then run around the pivot whilst the attacking forwards would charge en masse towards it. The point of it all was that defenders didn’t know to whom the pivot would pass the ball – the scrum-half on his run-around who would then open out play to his backs, or to one of his forwards charging at full tilt to smash into the defenders, closely followed by the rest of his pack.

Now, the pivot was always the hooker and it was the defending hooker’s job to sprint towards his ‘oppo’ as soon as their scrum-half had tapped the ball; the intention being to ‘smash’ the pivot just as he received his scrum-half’s pass.

Usually you never made it before the pivot switched the ball to his scrum-half or to one of his rampaging forwards, which is how, when sprinting at full speed, I once managed to crash-tackle Iain Angus McLeod Paxton who was also sprinting flat-out, towards me. Paxton had just been picked as the Scottish international Number 8 and that season (1981) was when he won the first of his 40 Scottish and 4 British Lions caps. We both stood up after the collision (and I was delighted that I’d stopped him so abruptly), but to this day I wonder whether he, like me, felt that every bone in his body had been dislocated? I somehow doubt it – and there’s the difference!


Quotes that made me laugh #48

So whose fault was it?

John Barclay, Scotland’s rugby captain, plays his club rugby professionally in Wales. Consequently he was at his home in south Wales when a minor earthquake hit it last week. His comment made me laugh:

It was scary, I didn’t know what was going on. My five-year-old ran through and said ‘it wasn’t me dad’.

Aftershocks were felt in Edinburgh a few days layer as Barclay led his Scottish team to a well-deserved, victory over England!

Apparently it was not clear which fault had caused the less-than-earth-shattering ‘quake, possibly because no-one could pronounce it. Most reports from outside Wales said the epicentre was near Swansea, when really it struck directly below Cwmllynfell 👀

Quotes that made me laugh #23

The rugby coach and big girl panties …

There was a refreshingly honest touchline interview during today’s televised rugby match between Saracens and Exeter.

Under a new directive interpreting the punishment for various acts of foul play, Sarries had seen a player sent off for a dangerous, head-high tackle. Alex Sanderson, the Sarries coach and an advocate of more stringent policing of dangerous tackles, not only acknowledged the red card to be fully justified, but also commented that he would have had no complaint if a second Sarries player had also been carded at the same time.

His quote reflected a degree of irony vis-à-vis his advocacy for a safer game:

Karma’s come back and bit me in the a**e“.


Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!

I came across an old professor of mine in the Graun’s Birthday announcements today. Professor William Stewart by name, and I well remember one of the few face-to-face meetings that I had with him.

It was at the start of the summer term in the third year of my four-year degree course in Dundee. I had been called in to explain why I had walked out of a pre-Easter ‘class’ exam without answering any of the questions. The short answer was that I couldn’t, so I told him that, but added (truthfully) that it was because I had spent the entire term training for and playing rugby.

Such is the arrogance of youth that I also told him he shouldn’t berate me for it, but that he should celebrate the fact that someone from his Department was the University’s only first choice player in that year’s Scottish Universities Rugby XV. With an eloquent flourish I then demanded that he judge me on my junior honours exams in the summer and not on a meaningless class exam!

Quietly, he lowered his glasses down the bridge of his nose, tilted his head forward to look over them, smiled malevolently and whispered threateningly in his soft Islay lilt: “Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!”

That had more effect than any ‘hairdrier’ kind of bollocking could have ever had and my goodness did I work hard to make up for what was effectively a missed term. He has since been dubbed a knight, so “thank you” Sir William Duncan Patterson Stewart DSc, FRS, FRSE (and former Government Chief Scientific Advisor), your understated menace had the desired effect.

Aye, Phil, I'll do just that!
Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!

Postscript: a former colleague and I once disagreed over a detail on a poster that he had created for our library to highlight the fisheries research work of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a leading scientist of the Victorian school and, like Sir William, a knighted professor. I argued that he should be entitled ‘Professor Sir D’Arcy …” whereas my colleague had labelled him “Sir Professor D’Arcy …”. We asked our Librarian to arbitrate, each confident of inviolability, at which point she quietly put us both in our place by referring to Debrett’s and announcing that he should be referenced by his senior honour only, so, Sir D’Arcy it should be. That’s my kind of pedantry, but clearly not the Graun’s; it announced the birthday of ‘Prof Sir William Stewart’ – see pic, above.