Tuesday, 16 June 2009

They bombed the Rainbow Warrior and torpedoed two Rugby World Cups but surely it’ll be France sinking without trace tomorrow night. Despite that, it will be a great occasion at a great old ground, albeit one facing its last rites.

My memories of the grand old lady, Carisbrook, date back to 1969 when my father took me to watch the touring Welsh side beat Otago 27-9 (Strangely the only Otago player I could remember was a bloke Hunter on the wing. When New Zealand 800 metres champion, Bruce Hunter, was selected for the All Blacks tour to South Africa the following year, I naturally assumed they were one and the same. But a check of the programme revealed my man was actually one Gordon Hunter, who later went on to coaching greatness).

Wales included the likes of Barry John, Gareth Edwards, John Dawes, Gerald Davies and JPR Williams in its ranks but was no match for the All Blacks, losing the two tests 19-0 and 33-12 (with Fergie McCormick scoring a world record 24 points in the latter).
Two years later the Welsh wizards were back with the all-conquering Lions and with the help of Mike Gibson and David Duckham, formed the greatest backline ever to grace New Zealand soil.

I begged my father to take me to the first test at Carisbrook. Mercifully he didn’t, as Barry John cruelly finished McCormick’s test career with a brilliant display of tactical kicking, the Lions prevailing 9-3.

My next trip to the ‘Brook wasn’t until 1979 to cheer on Ken Stewart in his comeback game in the unofficial test against the Pumas, the New Zealand XV winning a dour encounter 18-9. My abiding memory of that game was Stewart smashing the great Hugo Porta – hard and late!

In the intervening years my test match appearances (as a spectator only, unfortunately) in Dunedin have followed at regular intervals, although I can lay claim to making my debut (as a radio commentator) for the Independent Radio Rugby Network in the first Scottish test of 1996.

They say you never forget your first test and I’ll certainly never forget this one. A week earlier, in the first ever night test played in New Zealand, a young Christian Cullen scored three sensational tries against Samoa. At Carisbrook he went one better with four stunners as the Scots were hammered 62-31.

A year later I was in the commentary box again when Cullen scored one of the great All Blacks tries in the bizarre 36-24 win (after leading 36-nil at the break) over the Wallabies.

A dozen years on and I’ve been put out to pasture in the corporate box. I’ll still be offering expert comment but this time there’ll be no listeners, only fellow experts!


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