Partners in crime
November 18, 2010
'Steve, I love you, man.' © Getty Images
Phil Bennett Bakkies Botha Gareth Edwards Charlie Faulkner George Gregan Dickie Jeeps Barry John Martin Johnson Stephen Larkham Ian McGeechan Victor Matfield Cliff Morgan Graham Price Jim Telfer Bobby Windsor Clive Woodward
Described by Sonny Bill Williams as the best midfield pairing in the world, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are back in the saddle for the All Blacks this weekend as they take on Ireland in Dublin. With them in mind we take a look at some of the game's other famous partnerships in our latest Scrum Seven.
"He is an ideas man." Nope, not a squirm-inducing epithet from The Office's David Brent, but Martin Johnson describing former England coach Clive Woodward. The ideas man and his skipper were not cut from the same cloth but their partnership took England to the top of the world in 2003. As the granite leader Johnson became a symbol of a magnificent English pack while Woodward helped to revolutionise English rugby in the wake of the switch to professionalism. His methods were questioned in some quarters and he was not to everyone's taste, but in the England hotseat he enjoyed unparalleled success. "Clive used to call himself the 'Crazy Professor' and he wasn't far off," Johnson also said. Away from the England scene he drew scorn on the 2005 Lions tour due to his 'modern' approach and there remains a sense that there was a perfect time and place for this duo at the top.
A Rugby World Cup, two Tri-Nations titles, two Super Rugby titles and a stand named after them at Canberra Stadium, home of their beloved Brumbies. As 9-10 combinations go you'll struggle to find one with more swag or one that maintained such a high level of performance throughout their careers. Both topped 100 caps for Australia, Gregan sits atop the Test records full-stop, and became synonymous with the Wallabies' golden period at the turn of the century. Highlights include Gregan's tackle on a flying Jeff Wilson in 1994, Larkham's drop-goal against South Africa in the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup and more defence-splitting passes than you can shake a stick at. "I have a lot of respect for George and I think he's got a bit of respect for me. I think that really helps," Larkham said prior to their Test retirements in 2007. "When I first started out, he basically taught me how to play at fly-half - where to stand and what to do, so I owe him a lot."
The 1997 British & Irish Lions tour has become the blueprint on which future tours should be based, and that is thanks to the legendary McGeechan and his carefully chosen backroom staff. Chief among them was Telfer, a hard-nosed, inspirational presence for the forwards and thanks to the video crew that followed the tourists, a cult hero for rugby fans. On a tour where selection was open and based on intuition rather than reputation, see Tom Smith and Paul Wallace in the front-row and John Bentley out wide, the duo imbued the Lions with magic for a whole new generation. Telfer's stirring speeches, allied to McGeechan's obvious devotion to the cause, take on a background role when the victories in the first two Tests are brought up but behind Matt Dawson's dummy and Jerry Guscott's drop-goal was one of the game's great partnerships.
The Welsh fly-half factory went into overdrive as the 1970s loomed, with two of the game's greatest churned out a couple of years apart. The mercurial John, all confidence and swagger, partnered the incomparable Edwards in the 1971 Grand Slam before helping his halfback partner torment New Zealand with the Lions later that year. Following John's abrupt retirement, Bennett stepped up and became equally as influential through several glorious years, joining Edwards in a Lions jersey as the 'Invincibles' wrote a famous chapter in the tourists' history in 1974. The duo also teamed up to start and finish the 'greatest try ever scored' for the Barbarians against New Zealand in 1973, with Bennett's devastating sidesteps sparking a length-of-the-field move to send Edwards over in the corner. Enough said.
One of the rare breed of uncapped Lions, Jeeps' exemplary service at scrum-half made him the natural partner for game-breaking Welsh fly-half Cliff Morgan as the tourists went up against the Springboks. The Northampton No.9 credited his halfback partner with his selection after they lined up together in an invitation match earlier in the year and their partnership blossomed during a thrilling drawn series. Jeeps won his England cap the following year and ended his career having captained his country and won 13 caps for the Lions - but few as memorable as his first as he and Morgan orchestrated a legendary 23-22 win over the Boks in Johannesburg.
The Pontypool front-row - Wales
At the other end of fields occupied by the great Welsh sides of the 1970s you could see the likes of Gerald Davies, JJ Williams and JPR Williams, but at the coal-face was the beating heart of the side in the form of the Pontypool front-row. Charlie Faulkner, Bobby Windsor and Graham Price are the kind of rugby characters that permeate the history of the game, with their gritty, confrontational playing style meshed with the kind of stories that created legends during the amateur era. The Pontypool native, Price, was joined by his mates from Cross Keys at every level, through to the Lions, although the 'Viet Gwent' did not pack down together in a Test match for the tourists. ''Nowadays in the gym if you can't lift any more weights you just stop," Windsor later said. "When me and Charlie were shovelling at the steelworks you got sacked if you stopped. That concentrates the mind a bit."
The blueprint for a modern second-row partnership, Matfield the technician found his foil at domestic and international level in the 'enforcer' Bakkies Botha. While Botha's card was marked following his suspension for headbutting Jimmy Cowan in the opening game of the 2010 Tri-Nations his return on their November tour reminded us all just how good a combination they are. Together they have won the Rugby World Cup, the Tri-Nations, two Super 14 titles, Currie Cups and a series against the Lions - Matfield also becoming the most-capped Springbok in the process. In 2009 the pair were unplayable, making Botha's fall from grace a year later all the more surprising and damaging for the Springboks.
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