View from the back row: After the Lord Mayor’s show

Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

by JEFF CONNOR

A RUGBY columnist offers his readers a personal choice of ‘likely 15s’ for the next Lions tour, this being to South Africa in 2021. Four years? It does seem a bit previous, but I suppose it will arouse debate, which is what was intended.

It is known in the business as a page filler, the nonsensical stuff a sports editor will throw in when he’s run out everything else. I’d wager a million quid that the Daily Telegraph’s Nostradamus won’t have it even half right come 2021. It may have been better to have tried to name a decent Springbok 15 of 2021. I wish anyone luck with that.

The once mighty Boks are in a mess. Putting aside the irrationality of the half-half colour ratio (how the country is paying, quite rightly, for the sins of apartheid now), the Boks are famous only for historical losses now: Japan in the RWC, Argentina (in Durban for heaven’s sake), Italy last year, England at Twickenham for the first time in 10 years and the heaviest ever home loss to the All Blacks, also in 2016.

Boks’ former head coach Nick Mallett put it rather succinctly: ‘South African rugby is in a low, depressing, terrible place. Many of our best players are being lured overseas, especially to England, France and Japan (to which he might have added Scotland), by much higher salaries than they can earn at home. It used to be that South Africans went abroad in the twilight of their careers to bolster income. Now they are leaving the country in their prime. Rugby has evolved, but the Springboks have not.’

You could actually pick an Overseas Springbok XV to do a better job than the current lot and any of the top eight of the English Premiership could give them a run for their money. Even, maybe, a Pro12 Glasgow/Edinburgh combo.

Following the epics of New Zealand the thought of a Lions squad in South Africa is rather like, to use the old cliché, After the Lord Mayor’s Show. Despite the pleasures of Cape Town and Pretoria, the Lions board will struggle to sell that to the punters. We all like a win, but some measure of competition, too.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS

Mid-winter Saturdays at Malleny Park have always been different.
There was something menacing in the long walk through the mud from dressing-room to the 1st XV pitch, the eerie mists drifting towards you from the Water of Leith and the biting humour of the home fans. Goldenacre it is not.

There were always a few exotic recruits, too, usually from Heriot Watt University and they once even fielded an Italian wing called Gentile, who turned out not to be a nephew of Italian football’s World Cup hard man Claudio.

I loved that little corner of Midlothian. It was once Currie Rugby Football Club and is now known as Currie Chieftains, and I applaud the management and supporters for that. There will be tut-tutting and sniggering from some of the more traditional (hidebound if you prefer) clubs but, like the Hawks before them, Currie are trying to attract a younger audience and a younger audience means better marketing opportunities. If the BT Premiership’s survival at a meaningful level means clubs finding a more trendy name so be it. It has worked in Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere and large chunks of the English Premiership here, so why not?

Will the BT Premiership soon be enlivened by the Hawick Harriers, Gala Gazelles and Boroughmuir Bears? Let’s hope so.

THE OTHER BROON FROM TROON

‘The police are on the phone for you’, says my mum who answers all of my calls.

‘The police?’ says I. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Well he said he was a PC.’

A call from Peter Currie Brown, former Scotland captain and all round good egg (if rather eccentric at times) always guarantees a laugh.

We spent half an hour covering topics ranging from politics to world rugby and the states of our individual healths. There’s a discussion of the upcoming third Test against the All Blacks in Auckland. He had a bet on that. As always when talking of the Lions, a reminder from him that his much lamented younger brother Gordon had made the Top 50 greatest British and Irish Lions players of all time in a national newspaper.

PC has always had a good collection of stories, usually at his own expense and he signs off with his latest, about a recent four-ball at Muirfield where he is a member.

He had three guests and all carefully chosen. He partnered Grand Slam winner and head agitator of the Scottish Rugby Union Keith Robertson. In opposition was Mark MacLean once ranked ninth in the world at squash and Jim Renwick whose rugby pedigree will be well known to anyone here?

‘Who do you think won?’ asked PC towards the end.

I considered: he was on home turf and I knew that Robertson was not only lean but mean. I didn’t know Mark MacLean but he was the youngest in that group (by a long chalk) and as a squash player would still have good hand and eye co-ordination. Renwick has had back problems for some time and is unable to take a full swing, but I remember the broad shoulders and deep chest he built as a top swimmer in his youth.

It’s not my business to reveal here who won or who lost (though I did guess right). All I will say for now is that I would have paid a few shekels to have listened in on that four-ball for 18 holes.

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Jeff Connor
About Jeff Connor 12 Articles
JEFF CONNOR was born in Manchester, went to school at Bury and lives in Lytham. He has worked for a number of national newspapers including the Daily Express, Daily Star, Scottish Sun, Scotland on Sunday and Scottish Mail on Sunday. He is the author of 12 books, including: Wide Eyed and Legless, the classic account of the 1987 Tour de France; The Lost Babes, the moving story of the Munich air disaster; The Philosophy of Risk, a biography of the tragic mountaineer Dougal Haston; Pointless, a season with Britain’s worst football team; Up and Under, an inside account of the 2001 Lions tour to Australia; and Giants of Scottish Rugby, which contains exclusive interviews with 40 of the nation’s greatest players. He recently published his first novel: Looking for Lulu.