Deborah McCormack And The Thirty Cap Curse

There are people you meet in this game that impress on so many levels, immense dedication is a pre requisite at the top-level, but to be a thoroughly decent human being is not necessarily part of the job description, neither is the ability to face adversity with a smile and without a hint of self-pity.

When you come across someone who has all these qualities by the bucket load, it makes you realise that this great game of ours is well and truly blessed.

Deborah McCormack is one such individual, I am honoured and privileged to know her, but even more privileged and honoured to be able to call her a friend.

On Saturday night in Lille, all being well, she will win her 30th Scottish cap, ever since I broached this impending milestone with her,at the start of the season, she has suffered a whole load of injury setbacks, so much so we have talked about a 30th cap curse, so I will be as relieved as anyone when she sets foot on the pitch at Le Stadium, in Lille, to face France this weekend.

Debs has hardly played all season after injuring her shoulder playing for Harlequins in the opening Tyrrells Premiership match at Gloucester-Hartbury on September 8 last year,she did not play again until January 29.

An integral part of Shade Munro’s plans, she was called up to face Ireland in the last round of the Women’s Six Nations, playing a lung busting forty one minutes on the back of sixty minutes game time during the last five months a remarkable effort, the official match stats also show that she put in 12 tackles during those forty one minutes.

Debs back story has been highlighted in some of my earlier articles a tale that encompasses Motherwell, Medway and Sydney, but today we celebrate a significant milestone in her international career, one that began in 2014 against Ireland.

Her life and rugby career to date has been indelibly linked with waterways, or to be precise, three rivers, the Medway, the Clyde and the Parramatta river, this current milestone in her international career is signposted by yet another waterway, the river Deule, which flows through Lille, from Lens, before it flows into the Lys in Deulemont.

I’m sure all family friends and supporters (of which there are many) will raise a glass to this popular Harlequins forward on Saturday night, I for one will be nervously clutching a glass of red and crossing my fingers until referee Sara Cox blows that first whistle and the 30th cap curse is finally lifted.

The Baguette That Ruined The International Career Of Gaston Vareilles 

As France face Scotland in Paris next weekend, I take you back to when the sides faced each other in the French capital in 1911.

The result gave France their first ever win in the Five Nations Championship.

The fact that France won 16-15 is overshadowed by the tragic tale of a young Frenchmen selected to play on the wing that day, no doubt overflowing with a mixture of nerves and excitement as he headed northwards, by train, through the beautiful French countryside, on a day he would never forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Gaston Vareilles was a wing at Stade Francais, and when the train stopped at Lyon station, Gaston popped off the train to visit the station buffet for a baguette, by the time he had been served, he returned to the platform to see his train heading off into the distance.

Back in Paris, one of the spectators, french sprinter Andre Franquelle voulnteered to make up the numbers, and he did rather well, in fact he went on to earn another two French caps.

Poor old Gaston did eventually make it to the stadium in time for the kick off, but was told in no uncertain terms where to go.

He never played for France again, and ended up working as a planter in French Indochina, before his death on 15 January 1929.

However Gaston also holds a more uplifting statistic to his name, he scored France’ first ever drop goal against Wales in Cardiff in 1908, a slice of good fortune as the home crowd sang bread of heaven, but sadly it is that station baguette that he will be always be remembered for.

Time For France To Launch Another Best Sella

When the name Waterloo is mentioned most people automatically think of one of three things, the battle, the station or ABBA.

France arrived at St Pancras terminus ahead of their Six Nations match against England, the previously mentioned station might have been too much of an omen for a heartbroken team, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a week earlier at stade de France against Wales.

1815 was the year in which the Battle of Waterloo took place, at 1815 yesterday Twickenham was pretty much empty, with the exception of a few folk dressed in white and blue, the differing emotions shown in the opposing colours could not have been more contrasting.

A crest fallen French supporter dropped his plastic pint glass as he walked disconsolately away down Rugby Road, the stylish way in which he re-gathered it at ankle height showed more desire and artistry than his national team had displayed all afternoon.

The old cliche “Which France will turn up” was totally negated yesterday when one failed to show up at all.

Down in the South of France, at the Bar de l’esplanade in Tonneins, the locals must have looked on with a mixture of disbelief and melancholy, there was a time when one of their own sons strode the field of dreams, a time when France strutted their stuff with a certain panache and Elan, they ran at angles that Pythagoras would have swooned at, those were the days mon ami.

Tonneins is an unremarkable town in the Lot-Et-Garonne department of France, until the early 2000’s it was the tobacco capital of France, but now the town that stands above the river Garonne between Marmande and Agen has an agricultural emphasis producing maize, rapeseed and sunflowers.

An unremarkable town, maybe, but in 1962 it produced one truly remarkable rugby player, Phillipe Sella, the Prince of Centres who played 111 times for France scoring 125 points from 30 tries.

Phillipe Sella and I were both born on February 14th, sadly that is where our similarities begin and end, if only I had been granted an ounce of the sheer rugby  magic he possessed then I would have been truly blessed.

His French debut came in Bucharest on Sunday 31 October 1982 in a 13-9 defeat to Romania, to add injury to insult he had to spend the night in hospital with concussion following the match.

In his 111 appearances for Les Bleus he tasted victory on 72 occasions drawing 5 times and losing 34 matches, France won six Five Nations titles during his reign, including a Grand Slam in 1987.

Phillipe’s final international appearance came on 22 June 1995 in Pretoria during the Rugby World Cup Third place play off match where  France beat England 19-9.

Regarded as one of the world’s best ever centres it is sometimes forgotten that Sella played on the wing for his first seven games in the French shirt, before switching to the midfield for a glorious career where his centre partners included such illuminaries as Didier Cordoniou, Denis Charvet, Franc Mesnel and Thierry Lacroix.

In 1986 he scored Try in each of France’s 5 Nations matches, a remarkable feat achieved only by a very select few.

Phillipe Sella is “Mr Agen” he played for the club for thirteen years between 1982 and 1985 before heading across the channel for a spell with Saracens.

He retired from rugby in 1998 before heading home his beloved Agen, where he is currently director of rugby.

I’m not sure what state is lower than the doldrums, but France inhabit that area, in fact they own the lease, what they wouldn’t give for another best Sella.


In The Line Of Fire Bombardier Beth Dainton

The ability to think cope and react in the pressurised environment of the elite womens game is a pre requisite,so if you have undertaken a tour of duty as a precision fires gunner in Afghanistan then it is safe to say you know all about real pressure and in comparison to sport the stakes and the levels are incomparable.

Bombardier Bethan Dainton has experienced both ends of the spectrum.

Beth served with 74 Battery (The Battleaxe Company) 39 Regiment Royal Artillery, who provided precision artillery support to 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand Province, operating throughout the region at forward operating bases and checkpoints firing at targets believed to contain insurgents, decorated for her efforts,she was awarded the Operational Service Medal at a ceremony in Newcastle   

Born in Hengoed on 12 April 1989, Beth has represented Wales on the track, at cross country and on the rugby field.

She didn’t start playing rugby until 2015, yet remarkably made her Wales debut in the 2016 Six Nations against Ireland, going on to win five caps in the red shirt.

A serious foot injury sustained on international Sevens duty kept her out of action for nearly all of the 2017/18 season, and after a lengthy  gruelling rehab she has now a run of games relishing her switch from wing to flanker and enjoying a new rugby lease of life in the number 7 shirt.

A 2019 Tyrrells Premiership winners medal would be a perfect contrast and go together  nicely alongside the one earned on the battlefield.

The Last Metro France v Wales

Saint-Denis at midnight and the France captain is still doing the media rounds muddied bruised and exhausted after the opening game of the 2019 Guinness six nations.

Nine o’clock kick offs may be good news for the home supporters who can indulge in a leisurely dinner pre match but for players it is the final knockings of a very long day.

As Friday night nudges into Saturday morning Guilhem Guirado can finally grab a shower after the endless round of media commitments time to start the long process of unwinding it will be many hours before he can finally get the kind of sleep a warrior deserves, although sleep may be in short supply after the extraordinary events on the field.

The dark streets of Saint-Denis illuminated by neon hotel signs and dimly lit bars are nearly empty as the last metro ferries supporters back to Gare du Nord and central Paris.

An uneasy peace descends on the Stade de France the moonlight reflecting in the Icy puddles as the shutters on the food outlets echo to a close in the Parisian night,the final espresso dispensed.

On a bitter cold night the warm red shirts of Wales created a comeback that Lazarus would have found difficult to comprehend, as they turned around a 16-0 deficit at half time to score three second half tries and earn a 24-19 victory.

It was Wales biggest ever half time turnaround in a 5/6 Nations match and the look of sheer desolation on the French faces at full time was haunting.

Even with Poirot in the front row it is difficult to unfathom the mystery of how France let a big lead slip

But there is no time to dwell the matches come thick and fast in the Six Nations, France and Wales will head in opposite directions for Round Two next weekend.

In 1888 Vincent Van Gogh left a dull grey Paris and headed south by train for the unique almost heavenly light of Provence, the artists of Wales headed south to the CĂ´te d’Azur on Saturday where they will camp in Nice in preparation for next weeks game with Italy.

Warren Gatland will be hoping things warm up in both rugby and climate terms and they will looking for an eighty plus minutes performance at Stadio Olympico.

France face a daunting trip to Twickenham next week, and Jacques Brunel will have to repair badly dented hearts and minds, it is an ill icy wind blowing around the stade de France and it’s blowing directly in the face of French rugby.


My Women’s Six Nations Torment

This weeks article is a personal cry for help, it is less than four days until the start of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations tournament and I have issues.

I’m not sure how I am going to resolve this inner torment of mine, you see the thing is I am Welsh, that is not the problem by the way, but then again maybe in some ways it is.

Ever since I was a child I have supported every Welsh competitor in every sporting contest imaginable, it even extended to Come Dancing in the days before it became stricter, and when Home Counties North beat a Welsh couple in the Paso Doble to take the trophy I was gutted beyond words.

Football, athletics, boxing cricket, all got the treatment, and if there had been a Welsh tiddly winks competitor, they too would have had my passionate support.

Wales on the rugby field, well that of course got top billing in the patriotic fervour stakes, and just between you and me, it still does.

And therein lies my dilemma, as the Womens Six Nations is about get underway, I find my allegiance drifting, and if it were to another single nation then that would be easy to deal with, okay it would be classed as treason where I come from, but my mental torment would at least be resolved.

I’m going to have to bite the bullet and be decisive, Ok I’ve decided, I will support Scotland, my dear friends and international forwards Deborah Mc Cormack and Jade Konkel, two of the best and nicest people on and off the field, have made my decision easier than I thought, Phew thank goodness that’s resolved.

Hang on a minute, what happens when they play Wales, and even more worrying what happens when they play England and my pals and welsh cake consumers Leanne Riley, Rachael Burford, Vickii Cornborough, Shaunagh Brown, and kinder bueno lover Abbie Scott are playing ? oh my goodness I’m only now beginning to realise that this dilemma of mine is more complex  than I thought.

There is only one solution, in 2019 I’m going to have declare myself neutral, the rugby equivalent of Switzerland, I’ve got some Toblerone in the fridge and a cuckoo clock somewhere up in the loft, oh and I’ve also got an autographed photo of Roger Federer from my tennis reporting days.

So there we have it, problem solved, thanks for listening, I can now look forward to a Women’s six nations tournament which I reckon will be best one yet, now where’s that Toblerone ?




Quins Earn Their Stripes At Wasps

There was almost a sting in the tail as Quins Ladies defended a four point lead deep into injury time.

Wasps pounded the try line but could not breach Harlequins heroic defence, in fact it was a Jess Breach tackle that dislodged the ball as Wasps were about to dot down for a match winning try.

The match was a tough physical battle made all the more attritional by the free for all that was allowed at the breakdown, and also by the tackling of the French Exocet Khadidji Camara who made so many big hits in midfield that the photo frames in club house were rattling on their hooks.

She was justifiably named player of the match.

Quins were pruned of their Red Roses the exception of Jess Breach and Emily Scott, and it was Jess the Chichester Express that scored a long range intercept try in the 26th minute that gave Quins a 10-5 lead before Abbie Dow scored a try for Wasps with two minutes of the first half remaining to draw the scores level at 10-10 at half time.

A 60 minute penalty gave Wasps a 13-10 lead after which Quins pounded the Wasps line with a series of scrums that resulted in sevens penalties for the visitors and despite a yellow card for Wasps, a penalty try was not awarded.

The wallaby warrior Chloe Butler took matters into her own hands and stormed over for a try on 77 minutes converted by Ellie Green.

With a 17-13 lead Quins defended with their lives for the remaining few minutes.

As they replaced all the photo frames in the club house Quins reflected on a hard fought win that brings a home semi final within touching distance.