Gracer does the IRFU some service
The people are crammed inside Lansdowne Road. It is January 20th 1973 and Ireland trail New Zealand 10-6 with seconds remaining.
“On the blindside, this could be real drama,” goes the RTÉ commentator as the Ireland winger chipped and is chased by four All Blacks. “This could be real drama! Can he get there? Can he get there!?
“The ball is dead, I think...It’s a try! It’s a tryyyy! Tommy Grace!”
Pandemonium flows off the south terrace as the long fellow and his 70s mop is enveloped by pure joy.
Tom Grace - steady hand on the IRFU tiller - has stepped aside after 13 years as honorary treasurer. Saturday was his 72nd birthday. Patrick Kennedy, governor of Bank of Ireland, takes up the role.
To hear ‘Gracer’s’ speech every summer at the AGM - an opportunity that was unfortunately denied to the media in 2020 - was to understand why he wielded so much power behind the scenes. Nobody - especially the provincial branches - was spared his factual rebukes when it came to financial irresponsibility. It was never personal, just business as Grace would name and shame before explaining how Irish rugby must stay in the black when the going is good.
“The IRFU has prided itself on being able to adapt to changing financial circumstances and whilst the scale of the challenge facing us is enormous,” he warmed in his final annual report, “I am confident that we can meet it but there will be pain across all aspects of the game.”
Grace, a partner at PwC for 22 years, secured his legacy in Irish rugby with the try that almost toppled the All Blacks. Barry McGann’s conversion caught the wind and sailed away as the old ground was forced to silently swallow a 10-10 draw. Imagine how the master of coin felt watching his lost history finally come to pass in November 2018. Tom Grace will be missed as much as he’ll be remembered.
BaaBaa Black Sheeps
There are no “learnings” - as rugby players love to say - just profound stupidity, that cannot be covered by a Twitter apology. The BaaBaa black sheeps ruined a chance of a lifetime for themselves but, more importantly, for the players who did not leave their Park Lane hotel to go for “a meal” in Mayfair.
The session that took down a Test match may have irrevocably damaged the Barbarians brand as what union in their right mind will turn to an invitational club, that encourages men to wear their school socks, in the future?
England should have just played Fiji (coach Vern Cotter and a large number of the players who remained inside their plush bubble will represent the Pacific island this autumn). The 12 disciples of banter failed to consider the army of workers needed to put on an international during Covid at Twickenham. A lot of freelance workers are out of pocket because of this double breach of protocols. Not to mention an organisation that lost £60 million in 2020 that now has to stump up at least a million quid to cover broadcaster and other costs. The England players also lost a valuable fixture. And there’s the millions of supporters around the world who shelled out to watch the game.
The players could yet face disciplinary or even legal action from the RFU, given they signed a contract confirming that they understood the Covid-19 protocols.
No learnings here. Just profound stupidity to take down a major sporting event at a time when people, stuck in their homes and isolated from family, are craving the entertainment.
By the numbers
£5,000 - the weekly fee sacrificed by the Barbarians for two nights out and about in the west end of London during a pandemic.
Word of mouth
“The greatest thing about rugby, in particular, is that it teachers you about respect. If I had continued playing soccer after 16 or 17, I could have gone the opposite way. I could have been an angry man.” Sean O’Brien’s quote from ‘Fuel’ pisses a few people off on Twitter.
“I promise that I will learn from this mistake and ensure something like this never happens again.” Former England captain Chris Robshaw, en route to San Diego, promises not to burst the Covid bubble the next time he is selected by the Barbarians.
“We are very disappointed, to the point of being absolutely mortified. When you look at the players involved, I just don’t understand it at all. People are dying from this virus and we were putting at risk not only the rest of the Barbarians team but the England team as well.” Barbarians president John Spencer.
“I don’t think here in Australia that we have a major issue in relation to discrimination of coloured people.” Nick Farr Jones begins the process of changing his country’s name to Utopia.
“That’s just stupid talk. That obviously shows that Nick doesn’t have a full appreciation of the history of Aboriginal people in this country. Those type of comments are totally ignoring the history.” Gary Ella responds to his former teammate.
“The team we were playing against on Wednesday in training was pretty impressive - James Lowe and Keith Earls on the wings, Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey floating in there. Then you have Josh and Will going at it pushing each other.” At least Johnny Sexton played one tough match last week.
“It would be interesting to see Hugo’s GPS and Will’s tackle count.” Ireland coach Andy Farrell on his new caps.
Wall knocks down Italy
Offloader of the week is Dorothy Wall. The Munster flanker, making her first start for Ireland, fitting that it comes in the actual national jersey, is growing into a sensational player. Still only 20, Wall shows a complete disregard for her own or anyone else’s safety with those powerful gallops through midfield.
Beibhinn Parsons already noted how it is a wise move to avoid Wall and Linda Djougang during tackle drills. The tighthead prop/pandemic nurse is another to have altered the DNA of Ciara Griffin’s side. Italy couldn’t cope with the levels of aggression.
Claire Molloy was the cleverest player on view but Wall is the one with unlimited potential. Honourable mentions go to French scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, Will Connors and Hugo Keenan but the Tipperary native captures the prestigious Offloader of the week award due to the savage nature she brings to the pitch, which can only inspire those around her. Not that Molloy needed prompting, nor Lindsay Peat - who joins the Tom Brady school of athleticism next month - but Wall was on the rampage from minute one.
Hopefully she recovers in time to face the French at Donnybrook this Sunday.