Six Nations Miscellany: Portrait of the Artist as a rugby fan
Willie John’s debut; Beirne’s ruck rating; Thomas stars despite Racing exit
James Joyce’s affinity for Bective Rangers saw the Donnybrook club mentioned in three of the author’s books. Photograph:
Novelist, poet, short story writer and teacher James Joyce attended several rugby internationals while living in Paris. Educated at Clongowes, O’Connell’s and Belvedere, he first went along to watch the 1923 game between the countries at the Stade Colombes.
William G Fallon, an Irish rugby selector, recalled meeting Joyce eight years later in 1931: “When I got around to see him eventually that evening, having dodged the after-dinner meal, he told me that his eyes had not been strong enough to identify ‘our team’. He rolled off the names of the Irish players who had taken part in the game and their respective clubs.
“Then to my astonishment he talked of prominent players in the 1923 side and added that he had attended the alternate games played in the intervening seasons whenever he happened to be in Paris. A substantial part of our conversation was taken up talking about the match and the players.”
His love of the sport and affinity for Bective Rangers moved him to mention the Dublin club in the narrative of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (“it was the night of the match against the Bective Rangers”), Ulysses (“I’ll tell my brother the Bective rugger fullback on you, you shameless flirt”) and Finnegans Wake (“the Bective’s wouldn’t hold me”), a neat hat-trick for the Donnybrook club.
Word of Mouth
“Everyone is gutted, genuinely gutted. We know we weren’t there and everyone is going to be desperate to get things right. We’ll stick together through these bad times. One bad game doesn’t make a bad team. We’ll make sure that we bounce back.” England hooker Jamie George sounds the rallying call for next weekend’s game against Italy.
By the Numbers: 19
On This Day: February 10th, 1962
The great Willie John McBride made his debut in an Ireland team thumped 16-0 by England at Twickenham. The Ballymena secondrow went on to become a legendary figure in the sport, going on five Lions tours and captaining them for the 1974 series against South Africa. ‘The Invincibles’ as the squad was affectionately known won 21 matches from 22, drew the other while winning the Test series.
McBride (63 Irish caps) was one of nine debutants that day in London and two others – prop Ray McLoughlin (40) and Carlow-born, former Terenure number eight, Mick Hipwell (13) – would also play for the Lions. For wing Larry L’Estrange, hooker Jimmy Dick and flanker Noel Turley it would be their sole cap. Centre Ray Hunter went on to win three caps, the same number as scrumhalf Johnny Quirke, who made his debut that day as a schoolboy, 17 years and 229 days, the second youngest of all-time.
Beirne sizzles at ruck time
Ireland’s try scorer Tadhg Beirne produced a monumental performance at the Principality stadium, something that was quite obvious to the naked eye but there was also the supplementary evidence of the official statistics. Considering that Ireland were a man light for 66 minutes, it was a remarkable physical effort that came up agonisingly just short.
In one particular category examining rucks, Beirne arrived at more than any Irish player (38), was in the first three on more occasions (37) than any of his team-mates, made the joint highest number of clearouts (13) alongside hooker Rob Herring, was first to more opposition rucks (10) and also managed to secure one of Ireland’s four breakdown steals; Iain Henderson claimed two and Garry Ringrose one.
Thomas shines despite no longer being a Racing certainty
Teddy Thomas’s brace of tries against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico provided a personal high point in a week in which it was confirmed that his club Racing 92 would not be renewing his contract.
The 27-year-old scored two tries and had a hand in several others including beating five defenders on a slaloming run in the build-up to Dylan Cretin’s try and also made the definitive break for one scored by scrumhalf Antoine Dupont; the latter would return the favour later on. Thomas also showed his footwork and strength in claiming the last of France’s seven tries.
The news broke that Racing would not be extending his contract at the start of last week but Thomas didn’t let it affect his focus, something that French coach Fabien Galthie appreciated. He singled out the wing for praise after the game. “Teddy Thomas was excellent. He always brings what we expect of him, his pace and the quality of his finishing.”