The Rugby

Test matches at Cardiff Arms Park are usual pretty special.

I remember the 1978 series as if it were yesterday. (God, I just read that back to myself in a Grandpa Simpson voice. It works remarkably well. I think Grandpa Simpson is a great character and a hilarious evil old bastard).

Getting up at some ungodly hour, coming out into the lounge and being greeted by the singing of the entire Welsh stadium. You wouldn’t think that much atmosphere could be beamed across the world and out through a crappy old black and white TV set. Goosebumps stuff.

I remember Stu Wilson’s try in the first half (I think) . He didn’t do what New Zealand players were meant to do in those days: trot back to the halfway line, head down, as if a bit embarrassed all the fuss.

HE PUNCHED THE AIR.

I read, years later, he was fined for that. Unseemly. Not the done thing.

If you want a single illustration of how much things have changed over the past 30 years, that’s a pretty good example.

Then of course there was THAT line out and THAT dive from Haden. It turned out that the ref didn’t penalise the Welsh for pushing Haden, but for holding Frank Oliver. It was pretty clear from the replays that Oliver was held, and also that the ref was closer to Oliver than Haden.

But in the confusion a lot of people thought the penalty was for the dive. Even back in New Zealand. I remember going up to the milking shed after the game, feeling the win was a bit tainted. I wasn’t alone. I remember commentators on the radio that morning talking about Haden being up for an Oscar.

There was a bit of shamefacedness about it: gladness about the win, sure, (the run of play suggested New Zealand should have won, and the final score, 13-12, was really flattering the Welsh who were coming off their early-mid 70s peak) but a bit of a feeling that this wasn’t quite the way to pull it off. Then people watched the replays, and got the ref to talk, and it became clear the penalty was not for Haden’s boneheadedness. There was a general “whew” around the country.

The other great game against Wales I remember was the 1980 game. Mourie’s great try in the first half. One of THE great All Black tries – it was on Youtube, but seems to have gone AWOL. Bastards.

But of course it isn’t against Wales on Sunday. It’s the French. And OK, I take my hat off to the boys at Dropkicks who picked, back in the first round, when Argentina was up against France, that France was already in trouble. But France is one of those teams who can, no matter how badly they have been playing, go out there and pull a oncer. They’ve done this before against the ABs: in 1979 (admittedly it was on Bastille Day); in Nantes in 1986 (the famous test where Buck Shelford played on despite having a split scrotum) and at Eden Park in 1994. (I was there for that one – will never forget it) When they are in that mode, no team on this earth can beat them. They’ll be useless a week later of course, but that is pretty poor comfort. So I’m nervous about Sunday morning.

I have, though, negotiated with my other half for a toddler pass. – usually I take the four year old swimming on weekend mornings – so I’ll be watching.

The other free pass is I can scoff a traditional breakfast – something I’ve avoided, lately, for health reasons. Bacon, eggs, and liver. Bacon, cooked how it should be. You should never have to use a knife on bacon. It should be cooked so it shatters when you hit it with your fork. You can’t do that with most modern bacon because they fill it with water and monosodiumglutimate (you can tell this if you get a lot of water in the pan when you fry it, and if there is a white residue on the bacon when it cooks. The white is the MSD. There’s a few brands which don’t do either of these things).

The other good thing about having games at 8am is you can drink beer at that hour and not feel bad about it.

Unless we lose.

Which of course we won’t.

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