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Saturday, December 17, 2005

 

Other Unions: Simple life is wasted on Harlequins

For those unaware, Harlequins are by far the biggest club in London and were relegated from the Premier League last year. They are captained by Andre Vos and bought Andrew Mehrtens to bolster their challenge for promotion. Below is an article from ex-policeman and England lock, Paul Ackford.

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk
By: Paul Ackford

Welcome to the world of hog roasts, real ale and potential banana skins. It was a bizarre experience watching Harlequins survive against Plymouth Albion yesterday by 23-16.

The rugby was far more watchable than the usual fare served up by the Premiership. There were no professional fouls, no time-wasting and relatively little injury time. In fact, I'd forgotten how good a spectacle matches at this level can be.

But bizarre? Get this. One Albion old boy, now running a bar in Thailand, sidled up to me before the start. "There's a rumour I'm dead," he said in all seriousness before wandering off again.

Ten minutes earlier a bloke who said he was a policeman in charge of informants in London had approached. "I've heard your name every day for 10 years," he moaned. "My wife named our two cats Ackford and Dooley. They're dead now."

That's the beauty of National League One rugby. It's not that the rugby isn't deadly serious because it undoubtedly is. It's just that the intimacy of the occasion allows for those kinds of experiences, like watching the elderly hen party parading as Mother Christmases behind the posts, or the sight of a gang of wheelchair users enjoying the match on a raised dais courtesy of money raised by the Wooden Spoon society.

On the pitch there was a lot going on too. The ref lost a contact lens early after awarding a series of penalties against Plymouth. "That says it all," said a wag as the official prodded his left eye with his finger.

"You should have gone to Specsavers."

Then there was the clash of cultures. Quins, bolstered by a £1.5 million parachute payment after being relegated from the Premiership last season, could probably buy Albion three times over. Andrew Mehrtens, their All Black outside-half, is paid as much each year as the Albion front five together.

Before the season Quins' backroom staff surveyed each League One venue to make sure their players were acquainted with the geography and feel of the place before they turned up. Photographs of the changing rooms were taken, videos distributed.

Yesterday they had a camera at Plymouth to feed back snippets of play for Dean Richards and his coaching staff to analyse.

So it would be fair to assume, with all that money and technology and expertise on hand, that Quins would be the more sophisticated side. Er, bin that assumption. Quins were outscored by Plymouth by two tries to one as the West Country team played all the rugby, most of it coming through Mehrtens' channel. "They don't need that analysis," someone said. "They just need to get Mehrtens to tackle."

And that was perhaps the most disappointing aspect from a neutral perspective. Quins, especially in the second period, had oodles of possession yet all they did was work it to Mehrtens who sought the corners to pin down Plymouth and wait for the inevitable penalty opportunity. Adventurous it was not, but Mehrtens finished with six penalties, Quins finished with another victory to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches and almost guarantee their return to the Premiership, and Albion finished with a record gate of 5,551 and a huge dollop of pride.

As for the state of rugby one rung below the top level. Yes, it was genuinely exciting. Yes, there were more line breaks, more adventure (mainly from Albion) than Bath and England, to name only two sides, have managed all season. But a lot of the teams in this league are populated by foreign players limiting the development of the next tier of England players.

Plymouth's back line consisted of a home-grown full-back, centres from South Africa and Tonga, a French wing, a Devonian outside-half and, for much of the second half, a scrum-half from Argentina. No complaints about the quality of their work - they gave Quins the run-around at times. But it's hardly fertile territory for England-qualified youngsters. At least Plymouth reversed that trend when it came to their forwards.

There were two images of the afternoon for me. One was of Dean Richards leaning nonchalantly, arms folded, on the post as his players ran complicated warm-up patterns. Typical Deano that.

This is a man whose idea of a warm-up in his England days was to roll down his socks, lift his shirt, pat his belly and time how long it took to stop the flesh wobbling. It was good to see him back on the English scene after a spell in Grenoble.

The other was when Graham Dawe, former England hooker and Albion coach, came off the bench to batter away at Quins for the final 10 minutes.

The staggering fact about Dawe is that, aged 46, he is still playing, still competitive and still being a proverbial pain in the arse to opposing front rows.

He couldn't pull it off yesterday and some say he should be seeking the comfort of his arm chair rather than locking horns with men half his age, but at least he is out there playing the sport rather than pontificating about it.

Still, I bet he's never had a cat named after him

Comments:
I guess that it is an easy thing to start doing- bad-mouthing other rugby playing nations- just for the fun of it- without any real reason

Yes the poms are a bunch of whiners- but it would not have been possible to write that story about our rugby culture-

And I believe that is the missing ingredient in South African Rugby- we have lost our soul-

lost to a bunch of louts- whether they are lily- white olde school that has mismanaged the game for so long- or whatever flavour of non-vanilla who want to get rich quickly because it isw there so called right- because they had struggled- does not really matter

South African rugby had lost its soul

Maybe-it will be rekindled in the club hall ways of Pirates, SKF Walmers-Bethlehem Skoliere & Dorp and maybe yet unborn clubs in our "previously & currently disadvantaged townships"

Just a pity that our politicians- both national & rugby- care for nothing but their own needs

Has been like that-- will it always be like that?
 
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See you.
 
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