Calcutta Kibosh

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I remarked to a friend the other week that I didn’t think the Six Nations was any more exciting, or the day out at Twickenham any more enjoyable, than was the case twenty-five or thirty years ago in it’s previous guise of the Five Nations. We were all reminded of those days on Saturday when England turned out at Murrayfield for an old fashioned leathering the likes of which we had naively thought had been consigned to the past. In future years they won’t remember the shoeing that Scotland took at Twickenham last year. Saturday’s match though will be talked about in fifty years time as possibly one of the best, if not the best, Scottish performance ever on a rugby field.

The mantra I have always inculcated in the kids is that when a bad thing happens, it isn’t the bad thing that defines you; it is the way you react to it. So we shall see with England. In time we may see Saturday’s comprehensive defeat as the best possible thing to happen to this English team on the World Cup journey. For Scotland, who have always been hostage to high national expectation, the best outcome of these championships would be to see more youngsters flooding into their local clubs and increased sponsorship coming into the game there. The game in Scotland has been in the shadows for far too long and it is good for rugby that they are once again ascendant under Townsend's leadership.

Happy

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Kwagga Who?

All Blacks v Ba Ba's - Man of the Match; Kwagga Smith

All Blacks v Ba Ba's - Man of the Match; Kwagga Smith

"It's a huge honour for me to play for the Barbarians - old guys and young guys coming together for the love of the game."

"It's a huge honour for me to play for the Barbarians - old guys and young guys coming together for the love of the game."

A magnificent game of rugby at Twickenham this afternoon saw the All Blacks beat the Barbarians 31-22. The all Southern Hemisphere game enhanced the reputation of the Ba Ba's and cemented that of the All Blacks who, after a very patchy first half, solidified their game with more structure and composure to come from behind and win comfortably. On one of the few occasions when the selectors of Man of the Match agreed with me they selected South African flanker Kwagga Smith. Immediately after the match South African social media was buzzing with 'why isn't Kwagga a Bok?' comments while Northern Hemisphere social media was buzzing with 'I hope that Kwagga bloke doesn't become a Bok,' comments. I don't know where he's come from but I think we'll be seeing a lot more of him. In his post match interview he sounded like he's just come straight off a farm somewhere in the back end of Natal. He reminded me, bizarrely enough, of another unrecognised hero from the past; remember this guy?

Alf Tupper..... they didn't rate him either..

Alf Tupper..... they didn't rate him either..

 

 

Highs & Lows

Special, it was all a bit special.

That was a weekend of mixed emotions.

The Lions series ended yesterday leaving many of us with something of a forlorn and empty outlook on life. As one friend said as we watched the post match interviews, ‘what am I going to do now?’ It has been a fantastic six weeks of exhilarating, tense and good-to-watch rugby played by some of the Jedi Masters of the sport. As a shop window for sport in general and rugby in particular, nothing else comes close. The very idea of throwing together a squad from four nations and with only a few days training, packing them off to play the world champions in a three match series on the other side of the earth sound like Mission Impossible from the get-go. Many thought it would be. Perhaps they didn’t give enough credit to Warren Gatland’s mystical ways with coaching, or the manner in which players grow six inches when they put on that red shirt but the thrilling series that we have just enjoyed will live very long indeed in the memory. The downside of the hard fought drawn series is of course that there are some big and useful takeaways for the All Blacks in terms of their preparatory work for the World Cup in two years time from the perspective of competing against the Northern Hemisphere teams who have measurably improved since 2015.

There has though been some critical background noise about Lion’s tours, mostly coming from English clubs. The sounding off is less about the efficacy of the Lions from a sporting perspective but more a cynical and manipulative attempt to grab more money from the funds that the Lion’s tours generate. They can mostly bugger off. They have no support from rugby supporters of any hue and precious little from players, for whom being a Lion is a crowning sporting achievement beyond pounds, pence, PR and advertising. If the English clubs, and World Rugby for that matter, want to take us on then they are welcome to try. They will be disabused of their greedy and selfish motives pretty damm quickly. 

If those two had been around there would have no need for Hadrian to build a wall.

If those two had been around there would have no need for Hadrian to build a wall.

 

 

The rest of the weekend has been a bit hum-drum, mostly spent staring into the black rugby void with a bit of Test cricket on the box to jolly things along. With Mrs Flashbang away cycling Hadrian’s Wall and the kids all off doing what grown up kids do, it has also been a self-catering event. Yet again I met my nemesis and my nemesis yet again won. I hate dish-washers. There must be a smart engineer somewhere who can design a dishwasher that is easy to use, easy to load with controls that have some logic to them and one that doesn’t turn what’s left of our wedding presents into crystal dust. Having made a best-efforts go at loading the wretched thing I get to play hide-and -seek with wherever she’s hidden the little bloody washy things that go in the little slot. I gave up, emptied the machine and washed everything by hand which I much prefer to do anyway. I’ll master it one day though….. I will.

Bastard dog

Bastard dog

Happier days

Happier days

We end the weekend however with a bit of trauma. Actually, quite a lot of trauma. I loved my  Costa del Mar sunglasses. I really did. They have been everywhere with me for the best part of fifteen years. I’ve travelled with them, fished, driven, danced, watched cricket, barbecued, walked, worked, sailed, slept………….. everything. Just a moments inattention and they’ve been trashed. I swear I will swing for that bloody dog. I am not usually one for getting attached to, ‘stuff,’ but I’m genuinely a bit upset about my Costa’s. They’ve become part of me. Or they were. I think they are the best sunnies in the world. I don’t suppose they could be repaired? In the darkness, there is always light. I’ll be on the phone to Florida first thing; right about the same time I'll be registering my interest for the next Lions tour in South Africa in four years time..... 8,000 folk already have!

Wugby & Weddings

Happy Boys On Tour

I sat down, surrounded by a huddle of Kiwi’s, Irish and ‘the rest of us,’ to watch the bruising encounter between the Lion’s and the All Blacks in the 2nd test on Saturday morning, not in Wellington in New Zealand but in Bellmaclellan in the Galloway hills. With Guinness in hand and hopes high, I wasn’t disappointed. Nor were the 20 odd thousand Lions fans in the crowd at the game, including our intrepid tour party who have devoted themselves for the last two weeks to disproving all available medical advice that suggests 20 units of alcohol a week is a safe and proper level of consumption for adult men. It was though, as the great Duke himself said, ‘a close run thing.’ When Sonny Bill was sent off my Kiwi chum beside me dismissed the episode saying with laconic confidence, "13 would be a problem but 14; we can do 14." They so very nearly did. Had their goal kicking been in the same postcode as the posts they would have galloped away with a sensational win but the honours, for the match at least, were ours. 

Whilst we spectators were congratulating ourselves on a successful but gruelling 80 minutes in the armchair my Godson stood up and said, “Right, I’m off to get married.” And so he did.

The two things which give us all unrestricted joy and happiness are the birth of a newborn and a good wedding. That is, unless you are my Godson’s father who was in a state of some considerable shock when he announced over a beer when we were in Northern Ireland together thirty three years ago, ‘She could have told me she was planning this. I mean, telling me after the event on the phone; it’s hardly fair.” Having calmed him down and lured him into a place of manufactured comfort with another half dozen beers he pronounced me ‘Godfather-to-be,’ for the new arrival. I am so pleased he did. The wedding on Saturday was an epic event. 

We were almost a family at the wedding had not one of the Crumble Kids actually been at the match in Wellington. The rest of us enjoyed it though, arriving in typical family style; with individuality. It’s the old thing, ‘here’s a grid reference, be there at this time.’ Two arrived by plane, two by train, (with five minutes to spare), and I got to know the roadworks on the M6 really well. 

The father of the groom; just before the men in flapping white coats arrived........

The father of the groom; just before the men in flapping white coats arrived........

Just as a gentle hint of guidance my Godson has not even a passing acquaintance with convention or tradition. It was in fact the very first ‘low carbon footprint,’ wedding that I have ever attended but I am pleased to report that the wine and whisky at a ‘low carbon event,’ tastes very much as it does everywhere else. And you get to know a whole bunch of Corbynista's you never met before. The arrival of the bride and groom on a Dragon Boat being hefted in to a solemn drumbeat on the foredeck, with a lone piper on the shore giving them a navigational clue as to where to head in the stiff breeze, was an indication of what was to come. The humanist service by the lapping waves of Loch Ken was a sensitive, emotional and happy one. I loved the toast at the end of the service from the Quaich, filled with a symbolic mixture of Irish and English whisky for example, reflecting the backgrounds of both. A particular highlight was the Groom's speech, (isn’t it always?). It is the first speech I have heard to the accompaniment of 130 Kazoos which were handed out to us for a sort of crowd-driven supporting act to what was a very original speech. We all thought we did really rather well.

As seems to be the way these days, the old script of father of the bride, groom and best man speaking went straight out of the window and it was becoming a bit like Saturday Night At The Palladium as more and more souls had their moment which would have been tedious had they all not been so blisteringly entertaining. None more so than the bride's 92 year old Grandma who had us all in her hand, speaking with grace, wit and charm. I absolutely embrace rewriting the wedding thing. Dare to be different. The Ceilidh was brilliant fun, the fireworks on the loch sensational and the swing……………. well that was something else.

Apparently you don’t have to drink your own body weight in red wine to have a bash but I found it gave me some uncharacteristic courage both on the dance floor and on the swing. What is the swing? Well, it’s just another run of the mill thing conjured up by my chum that you can enjoy at a wedding at his Galloway Activity Centre. How else do you celebrate a Lion's win against the All Blacks and your Godson’s wedding? Some souls are apparently suffering from the onset of PTSD having witnessed me flying through the air in a kilt at night....... it isn't very likely to happen again; I promise.

Not My Turn

Four years ago a chum conjured up a cracking idea. “Let’s do the Lions tour to New Zealand!” he said. A bunch of us signed up for the Mid-Life Crisis trip of a lifetime to spend two weeks immersed in the best rugby on the planet with an eclectic collection of rugby lovers from all corners of these islands in the country most devoted to the sport. The brewing anticipation since then has been joyful. I have loved the innumerable lunches, pub outings and incessant debate in the Cardinal Vaughn Car Park at Twickenham about the tour. I’ve never seen grown men reduced to such animated and childlike excitement as I have with this tour as it has morphed from a dreamy ambition to reality. My own sense of adventure was heightened because I have never been to New Zealand but have always thought of it as the place I am spiritually at least, most close to. Indeed, if ever the Mad Marxists get a sniff of the levers of power here that is where I’m heading.

Crumble Kid with our Tour Leader. I had to send him, the shirt doesn't fit me so well anymore...............................

Crumble Kid with our Tour Leader. I had to send him, the shirt doesn't fit me so well anymore...............................

It was then, a tad disappointing to miss QF002 to Auckland via Dubai and Sydney last night. What we might describe as an unfortunate confluence of events have conspired against me and forced me to drop out just at the four year finishing line. It was though fantastic news for the youngest Crumble Kid who got the phone call of a lifetime, packed up his university accommodation in quick time and drove down at 3am yesterday. A quick turnaround from summer to winter gear at home and off to Terminal 3 where, after a quick goodbye, he found himself luxuriating in the BA Lounge with my chum. Kind of surreal turnaround.

We tend not to sink into self pity at home, it just isn’t our way. You move on and move fast. It is after all, not the biggest disappointment I have ever had with missed flights. No, that one is forever etched on my memory.

In the summer of 1981 I was sent from the Scottish Infantry Depot at Glencorse to join the Gordon Highlanders for a couple of months before starting at Sandhurst in the September intake. After two months in Belize I was ready to go. Any sane person would have felt the same. So it was with as much of a spring in my step that I could muster while doing foot drill that I marched into the CO’s office in Airport Camp to be told, “Well done Corporal Crumble, I hope you have enjoyed your time with us. I want to wish you good luck at Sandhurst and I look forward to meeting you again sometime.” That though, is not what he said. Not even close.

“Now look here Corporal Crumble, I know you must be looking forward to your flight tomorrow and starting at the Academy but there seems to have been a bit of a cock-up in the paperwork back at the Depot. You will now be starting at Sandhurst in January so will stay with the Battalion until we leave Belize in November. When we get back to Kirknewton you will stay with us and come up to the Mess and understudy a Platoon Commander until you start in January.”

That was kind of him. I had a fabulous time with the Gordons who were a decent and professional bunch and the time spent with the other officers in Kirknewton was indeed, good preparation for the Academy. But, at the time, standing in his office, the news was crushing. Another three months in that stinking, disease ridden country; most of it spent humping heavy kit around the jungle. Disappointed doesn’t touch it. In Belize they brew a beer called Belekin, (tastes like cheap perfume and did the same sort of damage to your gut), and distill a rum called One Barrel which tasted much like the issue mossie-rep we used in the jungle. I think I drank most of the available supplies in the country that night. I never touched the bloody stuff again. Looking back, it was a good thing. Had that bad news not have come my way then a whole lot of cards would have fallen differently and life very probably, would have meandered down a different path. 

As I said, we banish pity at home but I allowed myself just a hint of pathos when I sat down on return from the airport to watch the Woody Allen movie, Cafe Society. Like all Woody Allen films it received mixed reviews. I loved it and it fitted my reflective mood perfectly. The film is worth watching for Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous cinematography alone and the soundtrack is full of my favourite music. It was a gentle and melancholic end to what was, a rather frantic day.

I guess then, it will have to be Japan in 2019.

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Opportunity!

An old colleague and friend of mine has two tickets in a corporate box for England v Ireland on Saturday in Dublin. He paid £350 each but didn't realise when he bought them many months ago that it was going to be on the same day as his wedding.

 

If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in taking his place please get in touch.

 

It's at the Registry Office in Winchester at 4:30pm. The brides name is Nicola; she's 5'7'', about 9 stone (57kg), is very easy on the eye, has her own income and is a rather good cook.

 

Hurrah!

We'll take that on the chin lads...

It's back. The best six weeks in the calendar with skill, drama, heartbreak and joy throughout. The Six Nations lifts the soul and gladdens the heart, whatever the hue of your jersey. It's one big happy pill to take you away from whatever aches, pains and worries may ail you. I absolutely love it.

What is there not to love about French rugby?

The French are in town today and of course we all hope they are back on track and closer to rediscovering their old flair and elan.  I have posted this before, but here again is the clip of the unforgettable try scored by Philippe Saint-Andre in 1991, who didn't have a great spell as a manager, but whose try against England was voted in England's centenary year, 2009, the best try ever scored against us at Twickenham. 

Jonah Lomu

Jonah during the 1999 Rugby World Cup Semi-final against France, scoring two incredible individual tries. The first try running straight at six to seven defenders, being unable to stop him and scoring the try. The second running past, fending and stepping french defenders and scoring his second try.

The word 'Legend,' is used liberally these days to describe sportsmen. Jonah was the real deal. Such was his talent he elevated himself beyond the All Blacks and became the property of every rugby loving fan across the world. 

The clip above, from the NZ v France semi final at Twickenham in 1999, is one I recall well. It remains the best live match I've ever seen. Who could forgot watching the man? Open mouthed astonishment is how I would describe my reaction. Bodies everywhere.

Remembered with respect and affection.

 

Greatest Sporting Moment

It's over and what a finish. Won by possibly the most complete team ever to play. It didn't catch the popular imagination as we might have hoped but nonetheless was a great success in rugby terms. For England, and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, a new beginning beckons. For many in the rugby world the morning after the final of an epic tournament feels somewhat empty and desolate. We have some terrific rugby to enjoy in the Premiership though where at least we can watch English teams winning, albeit against other English teams. 

This though, has made it for me. The greatest sporting moment I think I've ever seen and a moment that defines rugby. Sonny Bill Williams; kind spirited and generous sportsman and gentleman. He just made a bigger statement about rugby with one gesture than an army of PR dollies could ever conjure up and immediately gets inducted into the Good Guy Club. I think the BBC just found their Overseas Sports Personality winner for 2015, he's definitely mine. Obviously the security guard had been watching the whole rugby world cup bored out of his mind and then wide eyed with excitement; his big adrenaline pumping moment came. That kid was going down big time in his mind, nothing was going to stop him............. except sportsmanship. Probably feels a bit of a wally this morning.

 

Man of the Match

Craig Joubert; Australia's Man of the Match

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the Northern Hemispere..........along came Mr Joubert to leave us confounded and confused. Twickenham was quite a special place yesterday. Aussie supporters easily outnumbered the Scots but the neutrals piled in behind them and the support was fantastic. Despite the calamitous result, Scottish Rugby has regained it's self respect, dignity and pride. Congratulations to them and for doing all those hard yards in the fallow years.