There is the old adage, that what goes on tour stays on tour and indeed in this episodic tale of a weekend of 5 Nations spent in Edinburgh, there will be events which will stay in the locker room. Notwithstanding the hubris that accompanied it, this ‘tour’ to the Scottish capital, can be retold with names absent to protect the innocent and prevent provocation of memories of things done in the flush of youth which should be put ‘beyond reach’ of the grandchildren.
With a smattering of team-mates we joined a XV from further up the club to swell the party to about 30, all jammed into a tour bus. Our start to the tour was inauspicious to say the least with one of our number missing the Belfast rendezvous and turning up at Larne via a hectic taxi drive only to find the boat delayed.
A Friday afternoon call at Portbello Rugby club in Edinburgh to play what turned out be their 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th XV ended in ignoble defeat as our scratch team failed to live with PRFC’s top men. We lost the singing contest in the clubhouse as well with a memorable Grammy award winning version of Summer Nights sung by the Portbello players, wives and partners. Haggis and beer followed as I noticed our coach driver, an ex player, having a seemingly inexhaustible half glass of beer. Boarding the coach at 7.30p.m. the coach driver renditioned us with a mangled version of ‘My Way’ through the microphone normally used by the tour guides before he chauffeured us to the hotel. A night on Princes Street followed, which grew hazier as the evening progressed though I do recall Willie Anderson and John Macdonald, who were on the bench the next day, visiting our pub briefly.
A Burger King burger later and I was back at the hotel. One of our props, a bear of a chap, was in deep conversation with a fellow kitted out in a very sharp suit. The fellow in the suit eventually got up and staggered away rebounding off the odd wall as he exited the hotel lounge. Our prop, the bear of a man, informed me that the fellow in the suit was an SAS man who’d followed them from Edinburgh airport earlier that day. We’re on to him the prop added knowingly, tapping his nose, shortly before his head hit the table as if succumbing to a lethal injection, comprising of too many pints of beer. I decided that if I was too, to succumb in such a manner I’d rather do it out of public gaze in my hotel bedroom.
I awoke the next morning to find our hooker in chatty form, (that’s the team no. 2 by the way). Listening to our much effected chat, the team’s no.12 muttered, ‘you bar stewards’ rather angrily before flinging back his bed clothes and stretching naked in front of a rather thinly veiled window. ‘You exhibitionist’ we yelled back. A short time later I was sitting down to breakfast and noticed the coach driver at the next table, his eyelids drooping somewhere near his chest. A chirpy hotel receptionist came over the tannoy requesting that coach CXI 67…. move as it was blocking in all the other coaches. Our driver stood up, unsuccessfully checking his pockets for the coach keys rather glumly. He departed to find a spare set and release the other coaches from the cul de sac he’d created the night before.
Approaching noon, Saturday and we were assembled in the hotel lobby and lounge. Our numbers were being swelled by passing Scots on the way to the match who’d dropped in for a wee dram or two, pre-game. The teams effervescent half back duo on the pitch were a sort of Reeves and Mortimer act off it. The assembled Scots could not help but be impressed by the pair’s impersonations and in particular their hit, Starmer Smith/Bill Beaumont pre match commentary conducted on top of a hotel lounge table.
Good things come to an end and a few of us straggled towards Mirrorfield, pre refurbishment era. The old ground, as it were then was bunged to the rafters despite the absence of so many of my teammates who watched on TV in the hotel. The final score escaped me, but suffice to say I recall an excellent try scored by Keith Crossan and being treated to a stodgy tin of Stowell’s wine courtesy of some Scottish lassies standing near us.
Our bear of a prop had been restored to good health following his Friday lethal injection and we were en route down Princes street to an Indian Restaurant. As our party of about 6 approached the restaurant we noticed a crowd of student types gathered round two Scottish policemen. Bear of a prop promptly waded into the crowd and conducted a friendly chat with the Scottish constabulary. A few minutes later there were loud cheers as the recalcitrant Scottish youth was released, having been initially detained for peeing in a doorway. Our meal in the Indian was reasonable if enlightened by bear, the prop cracking a joke about Pakistanis. The Indian waiters remained suitably inscrutable. By the wee small hours we were returning from an evening with Monkstown RFC and hockey club.
The next day we headed for Stranraer, stopping at a hotel bar lounge whose name escapes me, though I do recall the pool table and a challenge match against the locals. Reaching Stranraer about 7p.m. we were told the boat might be cancelled due to a force 6 gale. The boat did set sail an hour or so later than expected and into the teeth of heaving seas.
It was about 8 months after the Zeebrugge disaster and the bulk of the passengers sat in the passageways white faced and ready to abandon ship at the slightest sign of it turning turtle. A walk to the bar was to take a journey into the very heart of what it’s like to suffer loss of balance without the aid of alcohol.
3 stalwarts from our team stood anchored to the bar served by 3 Scottish barmen. I recall staggering up for a coke and hearing our stalwarts suggest to the bar staff that it might be force 7,(hurricane force). The barmen were united, adamant, despite the pressure from the barfly’s, that it was force 6. Pints were served to these three gentlemen by way of standing them at the top end of the bar and waiting for the ship to lurch from left to right and sliding the pints down the inclined bar.
KEEP IT IN THE LOCKER ROOM
In my preamble to ‘Edinburgh Nights’ I said, what goes on tour stays on tour and this might also apply when the coaches get a bit excited about their charges performing on the pitch. Neil Doak, Ulster’s skills coach allegedly roundly abused Simon Danelli, during the match against Glasgow at Ravenhill. This has provoked some comment on the UAFC board and an apparent apology to an individual Ulster fan from UR. Whatever the correct version of what transpired I believe that some things should stay in the Locker Room and that includes verbal abuse between players and coaches.
Given Ulster rugby’s desire to put behind them the horrendous clique ridden season and a half of not so long ago it is disheartening to hear this kind of story, especially when it involves an individual synonymous with those clique ridden times. Let’s hope if true it was an aberration and not a pattern.
Aberrations sprang to mind when 1F spoke of his enjoyment of the physical side of the game and something along the lines of how, like Neil Best, he wanted to go out and ‘hit’ guys so that they wouldn’t run back at you. Mention of Neil Best reminded me how he appeared to become obsessed with making the monster smash hit after his successful Autumn début with Ireland. Making the big hit was to the detriment of other areas of Bestie’s game and probably cost him a place in the Ireland team during the following 6 Nations.
Players often ‘feel’ the approaching defender and evade the tackle, especially if the tackler has sprinted out of the defensive line, the result is often more miss than hit. To be fair to 1F his timing of the hit which is a crucial part of nailing your opponent was praised by none other than Ireland’s defensive coach.
Stephen Ferris seems though to have the temperament to carry off this kind of comment. One hopes that he continues to listen to those around him and that he works on all areas of his game so that he plays a part with the ball in hand as well as stopping offences. The signs are positive and that he has more to his game than just physicality.
THE BOOZE BRIGADE
I note the emphasis of no alcohol on the big yellow bus to Dublin organised by the URSC. It would seem that the ayatollahs, that ultra conservative faction of the URSC have won the day following what were embroidered allegations of devilry on the bus back from Leinster last time out. Having sat in the middle of the so called revellers, alcoholics and alleged dancers on the bus, I found the stories posted on the UAFC website by certain individuals about what transpired to be entirely inaccurate and laced with over the top sensationalist claims of how nasty things were.
I mean when the illustrious Freddie Benson went to the toilet on a lurching bus travelling at 60 mph he was subsequently accused of dancing in aisles…….ha! ha! ha! ha! Just a flavour of the nonsense trotted out by killjoys at the back of the bus.
Anyway I hope to be on the bus, sitting in my monks habit with prayer beads, book of SCOOP (remember them) homilies and Hugo Duncan on my ipod! I will studiously avoid going to the toilet, opening my flask of, ahem, coffee and sucking on an orange. Whether it’s enough to avoid the scrutiny of the behaviour police and accusations that it was worse than a Boxing day match between Linfield and Glentoran, only time will tell.
As my Edinburgh trip all those years ago demonstrated, we don’t do bus journeys like that any more.
That’s all for now, chat soon as BJ Botha might say.