Old and New: Rugby Stories to Make You Smile – or Cringe

Amusing or serious most rugby stories reflect the camaraderie and great spirit that the game engenders in all those connected with it. These days, players keep fans up to date with Internet posts.

Some stories, like David Pocock’s post about training with Malilangwe Scouts who protect rhinos from poachers while on vacation in Zimbabwe, have a serious message. Others are more fun; Paddy Jackson, for example, raises laughs with posts like his recent Instagram featuring him and Tommy Bowe posing in Marvel Superhero outfits.

But what about past rugby tales?

It happened on the pitch:
The 2010 Junior World Cup semi-final between England and Australia produced an unforgettable rugby moment. England’s Jonny May got the ball 22 metres from the Australian line and was tackled by his shorts. With the defender desperately hanging on and his shorts sliding down, May got to the line to score, his backside fully exposed for much of the way. Apparently unaware of his teammate’s plight, Christian Wade then slapped his bare bottom in a congratulatory gesture that he probably now regrets.

On-field altercations can also have humorous outcomes. The 1974 Lions tour to South Africa, the most successful Lions tour ever with no matches lost and the first in which a touring side came out victorious in a test series in South Africa, is a case in point.

On a tough tour, the third test is remembered more for its ferocity than the fine play of the Lions that saw them win 26-9. During one of the many rumbles, Scotland lock the late Gordon Brown, hit opposite number Johan de Bruyn. Bruyn was hit so hard that the South African’s glass eye flew out, landing in the mud. All proceedings were halted while all the players and the referee searched on their hands and knees until it was found, upon which de Bruyn immediately replaced it – mud, grass and all – and the game resumed.
Years later, de Bruyn presented the glass eye, now specially mounted, to Brown as a memento.

The late Wales and Lions centre Ray Gravell’s philosophy was to get your first tackle in early “even if it’s late”. He put that into practice during the 1980 Lions game against Orange Free State when he tackled the opposing fly half very late. Penalised and severely admonished by the referee Gravell replied:

“Sorry ref, I got there as quickly as I could.”

Referee’s corner:
Referees get plenty of stick and in the old days, when referees were provided by the home side even for internationals, away teams often had to put up with a degree of bias. In New Zealand in the 1920s, Hawkes Bay were defending the Ranfurly Shield when local referee Bill O’Neill caused alarm in the opposition ranks by calling a scrum and announcing,
“Okay boys, we’ll scrum it here … and it’s our ball in!”
His sympathies couldn’t have been clearer if he’d been wearing a Hawkes Bay jersey.
When rugby was amateur, South African referees were notoriously biased against touring sides – but perhaps they had good reason in that rugby mad country. After disallowing what would have been the match-winning try in the fourth test and given the Lions a clean sweep in 1974, the referee explained his decision after the game to some querulous Lions:

“Look boys, I have to live here.”

You can’t really argue with that.

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