As David Campese and his Australian teammates head for Murrayﬁeld, Scottish stand-off Gregor Townsend gives Lorin McDougall an indication of what to
From a purist‘s point of view, the past meets the future at Murrayfreld this month: as Wallaby wizard David Campesc nears the end of his career, Scotland’s Gregor Townsend continues his climb towards greatness. In an era dominated by complex tactics and sheer brute strength, these two stand out for the uninhibited brilliance oftheir play. When risks are taken. mistakes can happen. and both have been fiercely criticised at times. but all is forgiven when ‘Campo‘ goose-steps out of harm's way and Townsend shreds another defence with his
Townsend sprang to prominence with the outrageous one-handed pass which gave Gavin Hastings his match-winning try in Paris last year and went on to light up the I996 Five Nations championship. But. ironically, it was in Australia that the former Edinburgh University student honed the unique gifts that had first emerged at Galashiels
Two summers were spent with the Warringah club and. although his first trip was curtailed by a broken wrist. his second, in I995, proved more fruitful. ‘l‘d
themselves like he did.‘
just missed the World Cup because of injury.‘ he recalls. ‘so the eight or nine games I played there set me up nicely for last season. We should encourage more lads to play rugby in other countries because it really does improve your game.‘
Not surprisingly. the 23-year-old Northampton star is a keen follower of the scene Down Under and has done his homework for the first Scotlaml-Australia Test since June 1992. ‘l‘ve been watching them very closely.‘ he confirms. ‘A new generation of players have come in and they‘ve lost some ground on the All Blacks. However. they led them by ten points with five minutes to go this summer and. although they lost. the talent is definitely there —- hopefully they won't show it against us.‘
Townsend’s fellow stand-off. the world record points scorer Michael Lynagh. retired from international rugby over a year ago. leaving a huge gap in the Australian team. ‘They've struggled to replace him and no one has managed to establish
Such crumbs of comfort will count for nothing unless the Scots can improve upon their dismal form in the November matches. Crushing defeats from New Zealand and South Africa were followed twelve months ago by a dull draw with Western Samoa. ‘llopefully it's just a blip rather than a psychological thing.‘ says Townsend. ‘The fact that we don't have high quality rugby in August. September and October in Scotland immediately puts us on the back foot. The southern hemisphere teams are coming to play us at the end of their season. whereas we're just starting
And what of the living legend who recently won his l()()th cap for the Wallabies? ‘l)avid Campesc is one of the most talented players of his generation. if not the entire history of the game.‘ suggests Townsend. ‘lle‘s lost a bit of pace but can still create tries for others. This could be one of his last international appearances. so he‘ll want to ﬁnish on a high note.‘ .S'mi/uml play Australia at Murray/it'll! on Sat 9 Nov (1! 3pm. The Illrilr'll will be brmlr/(‘usl (m BBC 1.
Gregor Townsend goes for the line
Hold on me
‘lt’s fixed, you know.’ That was my Dad’s usual amused reaction whenever he joined me in front of the telly on Saturday afternoons just before the football scores. lie was missing the point - and the thrill - of ‘ the battle between good and evil being decided over two falls, two submissions or a knockout before our very eyes.
Besides which, it was all his fault. If he hadn’t taken me to see Big Daddy versus Nendo Nagasaki at Gleethorpes Pier Pavillion I’d never have become so . . . well, ‘obsessed’ is understating things somewhat. ‘Spellbound’ is more like it. Spellbound by the colour and grotesque spectacle of it all, the
Nendo Nagasaki: a businessman, apparently
ridiculousness of two grown men dressed up in fights and daft costumes hurling each other about, their magnified fits of rage coming over like badly drawn cartoons. Once back in liverpool, I forced my mother to take me to the Liverpool
Stadium, a vast barn of a place that stank of hot-dogs. Kendo and Daddy were Friday night regulars, as was I, hanging round the tunnel, collecting autographs. Giant Naystacks, Bollerball Bocco, the Royal Brothers tag team and a million others. I never got Nendo’s, though I knew people who did, and I saw his ceremonial unmasking on television. I also bought ‘Nendo’s Theme’, a bog- standard instrumental record, and was in his fan club. But then, I was in everybody’s. Sad but true.
Just as sad is Simon Garfield’s brilliant The Wrestling, a heartbreaking account of British professional wrestling’s decline since Greg Dyke - yes, him - took it off the telly in 1988, all but killing a national institution. Told via a series of extended interviews, a residue of bitterness and tragedy - small-time or not, it still counts - pervades the
book. Mal Kirk died in the ring after a bout with Big Daddy, who later had a stroke. Fixed, you say? Naystacks is a debt collector. Those who are still in the game are on a pittance. And Kendo? A businessman apparently, but I don’t really want him unmasked that way.
By the time the 80s came around l’d ditched the wrestling for altogether ‘cooler’ pursuits, justifying my former life with pseudo-tosh like, ‘It was my first experience of theatre’ or ‘Boland Barthe wrote an essay about it’. I sold my scrap books and programmes to a pal who later went on to wrestle. His name was Bobbie, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’s in the book. i don’t think he ever paid me. Still, like the sport itself, it’s all in the past now. Bead this book and weep. (Neil Cooper)
The Wrestling by Simon Garfield is published by Faber & Faber at £9.99.
The List I- I4 Nov I996 91