Archive for the Rugby Category

The ABC of A-levels

Posted in Biographical, Education, Rugby with tags , , , on August 25, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I was having a bit of a clear-out of my office at home ahead of the new teaching term when I came across the above clipping at the back of a box of old papers. It’s from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle in 1981 and it shows the number of A-levels passed that summer by pupils at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle, which I went to.

I don’t know why I’ve kept this for so long, neither do I know why the local paper felt important to list this information. It probably isn’t allowed to publish such things these days owing to Data Protection regulations but it did so routinely back then. I think it’s OK to publish it now because it has been in the public domain, technically speaking, for over 40 years. The Chronicle also published O-level passes with names, and I have the list with me in it from 1979.

A few things struck me about this list. One is that, while I can put faces to many of the names, there are many to which I can not. Indeed some of the names don’t ring any bells at all. I’m sure I’ve been forgotten by most people in the list too! When I arrived at the school in 1974 I was assigned to a “House” called Eldon along with about 30 other boys. In the first year we were placed at desks in our classroom in alphabetical order. Obviously the first people I got to know were those sitting in adjacent desks. It’s interesting that seven years on, the two names preceding mine in the list above were also in Eldon and had been sitting next to me on the very first day I arrived and they are among the few people from RGS that I am still in regular contact with.

The Sixth Form (two years, “Lower 6th” and “Upper Sixth” to coincide with the length of the A-level course) was divided into Arts and Sciences. The Arts are listed first in alphabetical order, then the Sciences. I was in the latter group. My 4 A-levels were Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics & Chemistry. I also did two special papers, in Physics and Chemistry. After A-levels, along with about 20 of the people on the above list, I stayed on for a “7th term” to do the Cambridge Entrance Examination, and the rest is history.

I also note that very few of us had only a single first initial like me. That’s a Coles family trait. My Dad always said that you only use one name so why have extras?

One final comment. Near the bottom of the list you will see the name “J M Webb”. That name is not to do with the James Webb of Space Telescope fame, but Jonathan Webb did go on to play Rugby for England. I didn’t know him well at school because, as well as being separated by alphabetical considerations, he was in a different House (Horsley if I remember correctly).

R.I.P. Phil Bennett (1948-2022)

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , on June 13, 2022 by telescoper

With the passing of Phil Bennett at the age of 73, one of the true greats of Rugby Union has left us. Known to many as “Benny”, Phil Bennett was one of the best players ever to play at fly half for any team at any time. While the role of outside half in the modern game involves a much greater emphasis on kicking ability, Bennett just loved to run with the ball and had an amazing box of tricks with which to bamboozle the opposition, including but not limited to his famous sidestep.

Watch him here in the classic Barbarians versus New Zealand match in Cardiff 1973. The coach of a mere mortal would tear his hair out seeing a player what Bennett did under the shadow of his own posts, but he didn’t just get away with it – he started the move that created a part of Rugby history.

Phil Bennett took over as outside half for Wales from Barry John, who retired early from Rugby, and soon established himself as a permanent member of the phenomenal Welsh team of the early 1970s, joining the ranks of such legends as JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, and Gareth Edwards.

I was born in England but had family connections to Scotland, Wales and Ireland too. Partly because the English team of that period was not strong we always cheered for Wales when we watched the Five Nations games at home. Years later I managed to meet a few of the players of that time. I was flabbergasted to bump into JPR Williams once just outside my house; met Gerald Davies at an event in Cardiff Bay; and encountered Phil Bennett in a bookshop in Cardiff city centre. On all occasions I was completely tongue-tied, struck by the awe of being in the company of such people. All of them were modest and gracious. Remember that Rugby Union in those days was an amateur sport and none of these extraordinary men became rich like modern players do.

Anyway, here is another sensational try featuring Phil Bennett who both starts and finishes the move – with a fantastic contribution from Gerald Davies in between. In the words of the great Bill McLaren “That was absolute magic, and the whole crowd here knows it”.

Rest in Peace, Phil Bennett (1948-2022)

Six Nations Super Saturday

Posted in Rugby with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2021 by telescoper

Study week is over and next week we return for the second half of Spring Semester. At least we do for about a fortnight, after which there is the Easter break (Good Friday plus the following week). I’ve just about caught up with what I should have done before the Study break started so I spent a big chunk of yesterday watching the Six Nations Rugby. Super Saturday would normally be the last day, with three matches determining the Championship, but that’s not quite how it worked out as France’s game against Scotland was postponed for Covid-related reasons.

The day started off with a 52-10 victory for Scotland over hapless Italy at Murrayfield. The visitors started well enough but soon melted away as Scotland got into gear, eventually scoring eight tries. A lot of people are asking what is going to happen about Italy. Although they have won the odd game in the Six Nations over the years they have never really been contenders and this year they have been consistently woeful. Despite millions being poured into Italian rugby from the competition they have got worse, not better.

One possibility would be to have a second division of the tournament, with promotion and relegation. One problem is finding teams to make up the other places, the European Championship includes such teams as Russia, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Germany and Belgium. One could add Georgia into that mix too. The greater problem is whether there would be enough of an audience to make this financially viable.

Anyway, the second match of the day was Ireland versus England in Dublin. I have to say that I thought England were strong favourites to win that match but what the heck do I know? Ireland put in their best performance of the tournament and ran out relatively comfortable winners against a lacklustre England by 32 points to 18. England, whom many thought would win the tournament, finish in fifth place out of six.

The final stages of that game were marred by atrocious violent conduct by England prop Ellis Genge which was not spotted by the referee at the time but which will be reviewed and should lead to a lengthy ban.

And then the pièce de résistance, France versus Wales. Wales were looking for a victory that would give them a Grand Slam, an outcome that looked very unlikely at the start of the competition. The game started at a frenetic pace with two tries each in the first 20 minutes or so. If they had kept up that rate of scoring the match could have ended 56-56!, but at half-time the score was 17-17.

Wales gradually exerted their dominance and stretched their lead to 20-30. With Paul Willemse for sent off for France sticking his hand in an opponent’s eye with just 12 minutes to go the game looked over. The French disagreed and brought out some of their best attacking rugby against a tiring Welsh side who resorted to persistent infringement at the breakdown. A succession of penalties and two yellow cards ensued. France took full advantage, scoring a converted try to make it 27-30. Wales were still in front, and in possession of the ball in a good attacking position, with less than two minutes to go but then conceded a penalty. France kept the ball alive from the resulting lineout then used their extra player to score wide on the left wing with no time left to play. It finished 32-30.

The winning try, scored by Brice Dullin

Heartbreak for Wales, but a brilliant comeback by France. What a game of rugby!

Apart from everything else I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game of rugby with so many potential tries prevented by defensive players holding the ball up to prevent grounding in the in-goal area. I counted at least six, each of them just inches away from being a try.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my Welsh friends I think France just deserved to win that game. Wales had the benefit of most of the marginal refereeing decisions and Wales should have had even more yellow cards near the end for persistent infringement. Above all, they deserved it for refusing to give up when all seemed lost. Magnifique!

The Six Nations is not yet over; there’s still France versus Scotland to come on Friday night (26th March). If France win that game heavily and get a bonus point they could still finish as Champions. France need to overturn a 20-point points difference though so they’ll have to win by 21 points or more and score four tries. I think that’s unlikely, but they’ll definitely go for it!

R.I.P. John Pullin (1941-2021)

Posted in Rugby with tags , on February 9, 2021 by telescoper

I was saddened yesterday to hear news of the death at the age of 79 of former England rugby captain John Pullin. The name is familiar to me from my youth – he was England captain when I started to learn how to play rugby at the grammar school I went to, but will also be familiar anyone who remembers that famous match between the Barbarians and the All Blacks in Cardiff way back in 1973. Pullin, one of just three Englishmen* in the side, was the hooker for the Barbarians, so threw in the ball at the line-out that led a few glorious minutes later to that try via a move in which he also played a part, receiving the ball from JPR Williams (whom Bryan Williams was tackling around the neck) and passing it to John Dawes whose dummy led to a scintillating burst out of defence. In fact Pullin’s were the only English hands to touch the ball in that move!

*The English rugby team of the early 1970s wasn’t very strong, even less so when compared with the Welsh!

Stormy Samhain Super Saturday

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Irish Language, Maynooth, Rugby with tags , , on October 31, 2020 by telescoper

So we have arrived at October 31st, Hallowe’en or, in pagan terms, Samhain. This, a cross-quarter day – roughly halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice represents the start of winter (“the dark half of the year“) in the Celtic calendar.

Incidentally, Samhain is pronounced something like “sawin”. The h after the m denotes lenition of the consonant (which in older forms of Irish would have been denoted by a dot on top of the m) so when followed by a broad vowel the m is pronounced like the English “w”; when followed by a slender vowel or none “mh” is pronounced “v” or in other words like the German “w” (which makes it easier to remember). I only mention this because I hope to be starting Irish language lessons soon, something I always wish I’d done with Welsh when I lived in Cardiff.

Anyway, it’s a wild blustery day with the wind howling down the chimney of my house in Maynooth sounding like a ghost. At least thanks to the present Level 5 restrictions I won’t have to endure trick-or-treaters this evening. Or will I? Should I sit quietly at home with the lights off again?

Today’s schedule will revolve around the final round of matches in this year’s Six Nations championship. The settled order of nature having been disturbed by Covid-19 back in March it has only just become possible to finish the competition with three games today. Ireland travel to France for the last game this evening, after England play Italy and Wales play Scotland. Ireland currently head the table, but they have a difficult task in Paris: they need not only to win to secure the Championship but to do so by a bonus point because England will almost certainly get a bonus point against a poor Italian side. The Irish press are talking up the national team’s chances of winning handsomely, but it seems to me rather unlikely especially because France too have a chance of the title if they beat Ireland and get a bonus point. Both sides clearly have to attack, which should make for a good contest.

For what it’s worth, my predictions are: Wales to beat Scotland, England to beat Italy (with a bonus point) and France to beat Ireland (but no bonus point). That combination would make England the champions, with France second and Ireland third.

Update: 16.05. Wales 10 Scotland 14. My predictions are not off to a good start. Scrappy, error-strewn game with Scotland’s try from a maul that shredded the Welsh defence the highlight of the game. Bad result for Wales but it is good to see Scotland back as a force to be reckoned with.

Update: 18.45. England improved dramatically after a poor first half, and eventually ran out winners by 34 points to 5. That means their points difference is +44 compared to Ireland’s +38. Ireland need a win by 7 or more points (or with a bonus point) to win the Championship.

Update: 21.00. Half-time France 17 Ireland 13. France leading without having played particularly well, thanks to two big Irish errors. Ireland need to score 10 points more than France in the 2nd half.

Update 22.00. Final score France 35 Ireland 27. France won with a bonus point but not by a sufficient margin to win the Championship, which goes to England, with France second and Ireland third. It didn’t go exactly as I predicted but I wasn’t far off!

Polling Day Eve

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Politics, Rugby with tags , , , , on February 7, 2020 by telescoper

It’s Friday 7th February 2020, the day before Ireland goes to the polls in a General Election. I’m actually quite excited.

My polling card arrived a couple of days ago:

You don’t need to take this card with you when you vote, although it does speed things up a bit. The card is useful, however, because it tells you where the polling station is. In this case it’s the same place as in the European and Local Elections last summer.

A few days ago I came home from work and found this. It’s the only such card I’ve had from any individual or party during the three weeks of the campaign.

It’s a pity I wasn’t in when Bernard Durkan called around. I’m not going to vote for him, but I should like to have seen the look on his face when I told him who I’m actually going to vote for!

It remains to be seen whether the switch to a Saturday polling day will change the volume or composition of the turnout. It seems likely to me that the more important factor might be the weather: Storm Ciara is due to arrive on Saturday, bringing high winds and heavy rain. The local forecast in Maynooth for Saturday seems OK in the morning, however, so I’ll get my voting done then, but the storm seems set to hit Dublin just as the Six Nations rugby between Ireland and Wales gets under way, which might make things interesting.

A Strange Day

Posted in Politics, Rugby with tags , , , , on October 19, 2019 by telescoper

Being in Maynooth getting some work done this afternoon, I wasn’t in London for today’s People’s Vote March, which seems to have been a big one. So big, in fact, that even the BBC felt compelled to mention it. Well done to everyone who took part!

Inside the House of Commons, Members of Parliament voted for an Amendment, the upshot of which is that the Government is now required to seek an extension of the October 31st deadline for leaving the European Union to allow Boris Johnson’s so-called `deal’ with the European Union and the associated legislation to be properly scrutinized.

The `deal’ finalized with the EU last week is a remarkable achievement, in that it is even stupider than the already extremely stupid deal negotiated by Theresa May. The one good thing about it is that it is a big step on the road to a United Ireland, which I personally hope I live long enough to enjoy. Loyalists – especially the Democratic Unionist Party – don’t see things the same way of course. The latter party’s public humiliation by Johnson in was a huge gamble that backfired spectacularly on him ,as their ten votes in favour of the Letwin Amendment led to the Government’s defeat, which lost by 322 to 308.

And then there’s Scotland which, like Northern Ireland, voted to remain in the European Union in the referendum that seemed to take place decades ago. While special customs arrangements to facilitate frictionless trade have been proposed for NI, there’s nothing at all in the Withdrawal Agreement for Scotland. In fact Scotland isn’t mentioned once in the text. Faced with such contemptuous treatment from Westminster, the likelihood of Scottish independence must now be greater than at any point in recent memory.

Anyway, Johnson is presumably now back at home in Downing Street with his crayons,writing a letter to the European Union asking for an extension as the law requires him. Or will he? Will he instead do what he usually does and try to bluster his way out of trouble? Will he end up going to prison for contempt of court? Or perhaps he’ll just go and die quietly in a ditch somewhere?

UPDATE: In an astonishing act of petulance, the UK Prime Minister sent not just one but three letters. The first – an unsigned photocopy of the letter contained in the Benn Act. It’s a wonder he didn’t wipe his bottom on it for further effect. The second letter was a covering note from the UK Ambassador to the EU explaining what the first letter was for, and the third was a rambling and incoherent missive from Bozo himself trying to explain in poor grammar why he didn’t think it was a good idea to grant an extension. If Johnson had been planning to make himself like a complete imbecile he could hardly have done a better job. Meanwhile Donald Tusk did exactly the right thing and took the first letter as a request for an extension. Johnson’s pathetic bluster had no effect on the EU, but in any case that was all for Tory party consumption anyway. Stupidity goes down very well with the Conservative Party these days.

P.S. For diary purposes I’ll note that today in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, England beat Australia 40-16 while New Zealand beat Ireland 46-14. That means my accumulator bet is still on…

P.P.S.  Wales beat France by the narrowest of margins (an elbow) and South Africa beat hosts Japan in the other two quarter-finals, bringing my quad bet home in style.  Who will win the competition overall? I’ll go for New Zealand, but I’m not going to bet on it. Always quit while you’re ahead.

 

A Grand Slam Weekend

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , on March 19, 2019 by telescoper

Well, here I am sitting in Cardiff Airport yet again waiting for a flight back to Dublin so I reckon it’s time to break my self-imposed blogging silence.

I had an enjoyable little break, the highlight of which was the rugby on Saturday between Wales and Ireland. I actually managed to get a ticket for the game, though I am not at liberty to divulge how I got it. I was a long way back from the pitch, practically in the rafters of the Principality Stadium, but the view wasn’t bad. Sadly, I forgot to charge my phone up overnight before the match and by the time I made it to my seat the battery had died, so I have no pictures of the event to share.

I had expected Wales to win, but hadn’t expected such a one-side match. After scoring after just over a minute, Wales controlled the game. Instead of the intense atmosphere I’d been anticipating, the mood in the crowd was more like that you might find at a cricket match while the home side is steadily accumulating runs against ineffective bowling. When the Ireland fightback hadn’t materialized by the fourth quarter of the game, the celebrations started and the singing grew louder in the steadily falling rain. At least Ireland got a consolation try at the end, but if truth be told they didn’t really turn up for the match.

I got absolutely drenched walking back to the Cardiff residence, but it was worth it for the privilege of seeing a Grand Slam unfold live. I only caught the second half of the final match of this year’s Six Nations, the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England, on the radio. This seems to have been the most exciting of the tournament, ending in a 38-38 draw after England had been 31-0 up! Greatest comeback since Lazarus!

But all credit again to Wales for their Grand Slam, a great achievement by any standards. It’s revenge what happened ten years ago, when I was in Cardiff (though not in the ground) for a Grand Slam decider between Wales and Ireland, a frantic and exciting match which Ireland won. Not so much excitement this time, but a far happier crowd of Welsh supporters!

So that’s the St Patrick’s Bank Holiday Weekend over with and I’m now heading back to Ireland. This week, or what’s left of it, is `Study Week’ which means there are no lectures. We have finished six weeks of teaching this term at Maynooth, and there are six more after Study Week but there is another week off looming for Easter. As it happens, I’m attending a small conference in London on Thursday and Friday (of which more soon) so I’m just back in the office tomorrow before flying off again for two days in the capital of Poundland.

The Morning After

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , on February 24, 2019 by telescoper

So it’s not even 8am and I’m already sitting in Cardiff Airport waiting for my flight back to Ireland.

On the way to the bus stop in the City Centre I had to pick my way through the mess created by yesterday’s rugby crowd: empty beer bottles, plastic glasses and fast food containers lay all around, the pavements were sticky with spilt booze and massed formations of seagulls wheeled and shrieked looking for leftovers to scavenge.

No doubt there will be an organised cleanup but it hadn’t started when I walked through town around 7am.

I didn’t see any of yesterday’s match, but when Wales pulled the score back from 10-3 to 10-9 I got restless listening to the radio and went outside for a walk.

The thing about having a huge stadium right in the city centre is that the sounds coming from it permeate all of Cardiff. Sometimes they are recognisably human: cheers, jeers, applause, singing and stadium public address announcements. Often though, they are indistinct primordial murmurings, as if Gandalf were giving battle to a Balrog in the bowels of the Earth somewhere under Westgate Street.

But there was no mistaking the din a couple of minutes before the end when Wales scored the try that killed off the game and sent the home supporters into ecstasy. No doubt there’ll be more than a few hangovers in Cardiff this morning!

Wales play Ireland at the Principality Stadium on 16th March, with a possible Grand Slam in the offing. If that comes about the celebrations will no doubt make last night seem like a vicarage tea party!

Anyway, hopefully I will be back in Maynooth in a few hours to get next week’s lectures ready.

In Cardiff on Match Day

Posted in Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , , on February 23, 2019 by telescoper

I’m in Cardiff today and have just been for a walk into town and back. It’s a lovely sunny springlike day with a temperature of around 13 degrees. There’s an abundance of daffodils in Bute Park.

Today is of course the occasion for the Wales versus England match in this year’s Six Nations Rugby tournament. This excerpt from a piece by Tom Fordyce on the BBC website is spot on:

Although the match doesn’t start for several hours, all the main roads are already closed so you can stroll around the City without worrying about cars. There’s a lot of people crammed into town, but a very good atmosphere around the place. I haven’t got a ticket for the match and don’t feel like watching in a packed pub either so I’ll just follow it on the radio.

After two impressive performances so far this year, England are probably favourites but you never know! They have also won the last five Six Nations matches between these two teams. But with their home crowd behind them Wales might well bring England’s run to an end.

I’ll make only one prediction: it will be a very physical game.

P. S. On my way home I passed two clearly inebriated England fans trying to find a way into the empty cricket ground at Sophia Gardens. It took quite some time to explain to them that it was not the rugby ground, despite the fact that the Principality Stadium was in clear view about half a mile away…

UPDATE: I was certainly right about it being a physical game! But a strong second-half comeback against a tiring England gave Wales victory by 21 to 13. Diolch, Cymru!