Some lock-down thoughts from three time (1979, 80, 81) Blue Simon Halliday (St Benet’s).
As people may imagine, I have a role to play in helping rugby navigate through the current crisis. Nonetheless, we are all wondering what sort of game we will return to when the crisis allows, and for every week that passes we get more anxious.
I decided to look back from lockdown at some of my fond memories when the game was amateur and of course go back some years. But somehow I feel that they will remind me and perhaps you that some things should never change in this great game of ours.
1/ I never played top French clubs – you couldn’t, there were no fixtures. But with Oxford University on tour in 1980/81, we downed the great Biarritz in a thriller, notable for our first sight of an 18 year old Serge Blanco. He ran through the entire team for a solo try and then retired at half time, bored. An even more dramatic triumph a few years later at Agen, home of Dubroca, Sella and Cabannes ended in an all night party at their local restaurant – French hospitality and wonderful intoxicating rugby, a mix for the ages.
2/ I looked across at Jonathan Webb, a great England fullback, as we sat waiting for the bus to take us away from our match for a shower as there were no facilities at the ground. We had just lost to a Fiji XV in the last minute at their Nandi stadium in 1991. We were drained and bruised beyond belief by a Fiji team who became uncontrollable as they do when they get going. But what freedom of spirit, and in a country with very little they treated us like kings. The current Fiji team could be the best in the world man for man. Let us hope they get the recognition they deserve.
3/ I now live rather close to my old Bath training ground at Lambridge. In the 80’s when we could destroy any opposing back line there was, I remember practising our moves in one corner of the field until inch perfect, and then again. We were obsessive, so that when the moment came we could execute the move- Barnes, Halliday, Guscott in unison. No sign of the gym or forwards slowing down the move. In lockdown people rather liked the simplicity of the action in the 80’s and 90’s, impressed by the pace of the matches.
4/ I played for England Students v Japan in front of 80,000 people in Tokyo in 1981 and while we won a resounding victory we learnt a lot from their unbelievable pace in attack. Sound familiar?!
5/ We got thumped by Scotland in 1986 at Murrayfield courtesy of John Rutherford and the Hastings Brothers and I had cracked a rib early on. After a long long night, I had to go back by train and sit in the guard’s van because there was no room. Every bump on the track was agony and it took ten hours to get back. I was then dropped to cap a miserable time. Good for the soul and a nice reality check!
6/ Despite being the best team in the land and stacked full of internationals, Bath rugby players were rarely allowed into post match hospitality because the sponsor was scared we would drink all their alcohol. Luckily we drank with the supporters mostly, so if we had played well there was always a good party.
7/ Stuart Barnes and I played against the All Blacks for Oxford Past and Present. Foolishly we had some lunch on the way up (even a beer), but remarkably were points up after 20 minutes. Ask John Gallagher ( playing Full back for the Kiwis) what the end score was to punish us for our temerity. Due to injury, unavailability and non selection this was my only game against the men in Black. Disappointing for sure.
8/ We lost the Rugby World Cup Final in 1991 against Australia. We were heroic in defeat and should have won. Some threw their finalist medal into the river. I framed mine and remain sadly proud of the occasion. 2003 was a long time to wait for revenge!
9/ My last ever match in 1992 ( when we achieved the double Grand Slam) was the Pilkington Cup Final for Harlequins against my old club Bath who had never lost a final – nor had I! 12-12 into the last 5 secs of injury time and Barnesy kicks a winning drop goal from 40 yards, depriving me of a shared trophy with my old team. That’s sport !!
10/ Rugby is about making memories, friends and preserving values. Whatever happens through this crisis, we would do well not to forget those essential truths because when people look back, they should have a smile on their face, as I have in remembering some special moments!