Fancy seeing you here
March 10, 2011
Sonny Bill Williams reflects on a tough return to Australia in 2009 © Getty Images
With Scotland coach Andy Robinson all set to return to Twickenham for the first time since his axing as England coach in 2006, we've dedicated Scrum Sevens to some other difficult reunions.
Munster welcome McRae, 2004
There are more hospitable places to play rugby as an away side than Thomond Park. The surface of the sun, for example. Munster's home is one of the jewels in European rugby's crown, a cauldron offering a riotous clash of colour and song and a classic example of the benefit found in playing on your home track. In 2004, Gloucester's Aussie utility back Duncan McRae was met with boos and whistles from the capacity crowd on his every touch of the ball during a 35-14 loss. It was roughly two and a half years since McRae had viciously assaulted one of Munster's favourite sons, Ronan O'Gara, when the fly-half was on tour to Australia with the British & Irish Lions. Then playing for the Waratahs, McRae copped a seven week ban, conveniently during the off-season, and O'Gara eight stitches.
"As a person, Duncan McRae means nothing to me," O'Gara said. "He doesn't ever enter into my calculations. It's probably hard to believe but he doesn't cost me a single thought. He did once. After the event, well, it was embarrassing. The slagging, the re-enactments. After we lost to Toulouse in the European Cup semi-final Donncha O'Callaghan and John Fogarty relived it in the airport in front of everybody, one on top of the other, firing pretend digs into his face. I was used to it at that stage, though."
South Africa return to the fold, 1992
The abolition of Apartheid between 1990 and 1991 occasioned the return of South Africa to international sport, with both the Springboks and their footballing counterparts, Bafana Bafana, welcomed back after years of isolation. South Africa's first Test back, on August 15, 1992, was against their fiercest rivals, New Zealand, in Johannesburg.
Two tries from the masterful Danie Gerber, arguably the greatest talent to be lost to the game due to his country's politics, were not enough for the Boks to prevail and they slipped to a 27-24 defeat, a month before the world champions, Australia, cruised home 26-3 in Cape Town. South African rugby would not reach the heights seen before isolation until the installation of Kitch Christie as coach prior to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and we all know what happened next.
'Dingo' heads home, 2008
It had all gone swimmingly to this point. Robbie Deans, former All Black, the most successful coach in the history of Super Rugby, was not wanted by the New Zealand Rugby Union in the wake of their Rugby World Cup debacle in 2007 and duly accepted a role as head coach of the Wallabies. His first meeting with Graham Henry's All Blacks resulted in a resounding 34-19 win in Sydney. Then, a hop across the Tasman took the Cantabrian legend to Eden Park. "There's no doubt the reception won't be as warm," he said. "Everyone's entitled to their own stance, and I've had hostile welcomes there in the past. It'll be what it is and I'm looking forward to it."
A hostile welcome it was, and the result gave the coach little reason for cheer. The All Blacks cruised home 39-10 in what would be the beginning of a record 10-match losing run for the Wallabies against their fiercest rivals.
Enter 'Blindman', 2010
Wayne Barnes' performance with the whistle as the All Blacks crashed out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup to France has passed into folklore for Kiwis and those who enjoy to rib them. The English official survived mock Wikipedia obituaries and death threats after missing that forward pass, but as he prepared to ref New Zealand's opening Test of 2010, against Ireland in New Plymouth, there remained as sense that all had not been forgiven.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, a broken man at the conclusion of the loss to France, led the charm offensive , saying, "You have got to move on from things like that and leave whatever happened in the past - to me it's not an issue at all. I don't think it is good for the game when we start bringing back what has happened in the past. We just have to get on with it." His feelings were not echoed by those at Yarrow Stadium, who roundly jeered Barnes prior to kick-off. Any hope that the game would pass without incident was extinguished after 15 minutes when Barnes sent off Ireland's Jamie Heaslip for a knee on McCaw. It was pretty hard to miss.
Sonny the Barbarian, 2009
Sonny Bill Williams' exit from the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008 earned him top spot in a poll to find 'Australia's most hated man' and there was plenty of anticipation as the centre, who had signed for Toulon, prepared to return Down Under the first time since upping sticks and leaving the NRL franchise in the lurch. He was selected among a Barbarians squad boasting 775 Test caps for a clash with the Wallabies at Sydney Football Stadium, and the press attention was fierce.
The Baa-Baas were whipped 55-7 and after he had almost scored with his first touch in international rugby, the most noticeable point in Williams' evening came when he was wiped out by Wallabies skipper Stirling Mortlock. "Yes, I've had a few people come up to me, and say, 'Put a shot in for me', but it's all a bit tongue in cheek," the centre had earlier admitted.
Watson's trip to Loftus, 2009
As captain of the Stormers, Luke Watson was not a particularly welcome presence at the home of their fierce rivals, the Bulls, even before his controversial comments about the state of South African rugby in 2008. While serving as guest speaker at the Umbumbo Rugby Festival at the University of Cape Town Rugby Club, he was alleged to have said 'the problem with South African rugby is that it is controlled by Dutchmen', while also suggesting that South African rugby is 'rotten to the core' and that he wanted 'to vomit on the Springbok jersey'.
In 2009 his Stormers side were beaten 14-10 at Loftus, but the game was a mere sideshow to the main course of the home side having their say against the visiting skipper. Polled before the game by The Times Bulls fans were heard to say, 'I wish somebody had a decibel meter' and 'He's going to face 55,000 Dutchmen today'.
Harlequins get back on the horse, 2009
The London Double Header has become a reliable curtain-raiser to the Premiership season, where the last throes of summer (or what passes for it) are washed away by the start of the latest campaign and a few hundred thousand beers at Twickenham. In 2009, in the wake of the 'Bloodgate' scandal that engulfed English rugby, there was a palpable edge as Harlequins took the field against Wasps in the second of the day's games.
Booed onto the field by a big crowd, Quins failed spectacularly to keep their heads down and get on with it. Lock George Robson lasted 46 seconds before being sent-off for head-butting Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson, the red card being brandished by the appropriately named Dean Richards. Wasps went on to win 26-15 following a dogged Quins display. "He came and said sorry after the match, which I accepted, but I am still pretty frustrated and disappointed with what happened. It is not really the spirit of rugby, I don't think," Simpson later said.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery
"England remind me of a PlayStation rugby team," John Mitchell on tactics and the search for a first-choice fly-half ahead of the World Cup
Augustine Pulu will return home with little more than 20 minutes rugby in one month on tour. It is time for more midweek games writes Craig Dowd
Samoa's Sivi Tau says the team "come completely prepared", the reality is a world away. Seilala Mapusua on Samoa and building a future