A revealing handwritten letter emerged at the weekend from the England scrum half Danny Care, who wasn't playing in the first Test against New Zealand, to his Harlequins and England colleague Joe Marler, who very much was. And how! 'Joe, Just wanted to wish you all the best when you step on the battlefield tonight,' wrote Care. 'Go hard my friend, I wish I could be out there in the trenches alongside you.' Say what you like about the military metaphor--and I think it's bang-on for a match against the All Blacks--that note says as much about Stuart Lancaster's England as a whole forest of commentary.
The comradely spirit, this band of brothers and all that, is to Lancaster's immense credit and a world away from previous ego-filled teams to tour New Zealand. At the 2011 World Cup, England spent most of the time in bars tossing dwarves or snogging mystery blondes, when they weren't chucking themselves off ferries or generally mucking about. Their rugby was shockingly mediocre.
In 2008, their previous tour, four England players were accused of 'sexually' violating a teenaged waitress after a drunken evening out (they all denied it, and no charges were brought). Two of them, Danny Care and Mike Brown, are stalwarts of the current England side, which shows there is room for redemption under Lancaster. Care, you may remember, also built up a string of offences for relieving himself in public. But clearly this coach would not put up with any more bad behaviour. Once the wastrel NCO, Care has become an inspirational senior officer. Now Lancaster looks like he can rehabilitate Danny Cipriani, too: a miracle-worker indeed.Continue reading
Rugby's World Cup has been surprisingly engaging--hooray for the gallant grandeur of England, France and the other small-fry nations! It has been salutary for the Celts, however, with Wales and Ireland given such a contemptuous bums' rush that each had to watch last weekend's quarter-finals on television back in their own homes and behind closed curtains. If their self-esteem is in shock, it's nothing to the severe clattering their bodies had to endure.
Mind you, that goes, with knobs on, for the surviving teams still scrapping to contest next week's final, for any rugby pitch is now a major crash site--bell-clanging ambulances, paramedics and all.
The skilful, expertly timed low tackle is a thrill of the past. The game no longer refers to tackles, but 'hits', preferably 'big hits', and the more hurtful, it seems, the better. Zap! Pow! Ughh! A sports injuries whitecoat-boffin said the other day that serious injuries in rugby had more than doubled since the game went professional a dozen years ago, with almost 70 per cent of them caused by one or other of those involved in heavy 'hits'. Bushy-tailed young colts are no longer taught or encouraged to dart or dodge, swerve or jink or sidestep: sole aim now is the sumo-collision, torso-on-torso, full-on and as powerful, even injurious, as possible. Licensed Neanderthal mugging.
The classic, extempore low tackle--taking down an opponent at full-pelt 'on the wing', and extolled by generations of schoolboy coaches--was part of the heroic lore. No more. Most fabled for my generation was the cornerflagging secateurs job on Cambridge's electric hare, John Smith, when all five of Oxford's John MacGregor Kendall-Carpenter took him round the ankles at the end of a palpitating length-of-the-field chase in the Twickenham gloaming at the very end of the 1949 University match. Five years later, same famous field on my first school trip, I saw All-Black legend, bald and bandy Bob Scott, boldly upend England's Martin Regan at full, heady gallop. Golly, did you see that? Wow!Continue reading