Rugby Union: Barnes' lease of life

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The Independent Online
LEAFING through a book by a practitioner in homoeopathic medicine the other day, I came upon the following account of what the author, following Hippocrates, calls the sanguine temperament:

'The sanguine type is. . .stocky. He has a broad face, red cheeks, lively, laughing eyes. His skin is warm, his movements supple; he is given to large and frequent gesticulations. Psychologically he is an enthusiast, an optimist, sometimes quick-tempered, but nevertheless fond of good living. He is a prime example of the extrovert type.'

This is an excellent description of Stuart Barnes, apart from the red cheeks, which will no doubt come in time if he takes on board enough fine old French-type wine in the course of what I hope is a long and prosperous life.

How long his rugby life will turn out to be is another matter. Jeff Probyn won his very first cap at 31, and is still going strong five years later, though players in this position are supposed to be at their peak at around 30. Outside-halves are meant to mature five or so years sooner.

Barry John retired at 27, one year after the Lions' 1971 tour of New Zealand and his own triumphant part in it. Some good judges maintain that he retired too soon; others, that he was wise to get out at the top. What is indisputable is that, if John had not retired when he did, we should not have seen the glory of Phil Bennett.

John himself owed his stable position in the Welsh side to the decision of David Watkins to turn professional. And who can tell what Carwyn James might have done had he not been kept out of the Welsh side by Cliff Morgan?

Barnes has been luckier than James in that, at 30, he can look forward to two or three years at the top. Rob Andrew, however, for all his fine qualities, is no Cliff Morgan. One can understand Barnes's frustrations and even sympathise with his tantrums over the past seasons.

At the same time we should extend some sympathy to Andrew. He is one of the most pleasant and intelligent members of the England squad - though admittedly the competition in these areas is not severe. It is not his fault if he has consistently been chosen before somebody else.

The sadness is that, as anyone who saw him playing for London against his native North a few weeks ago can testify, Andrew too is capable of penetrating the best defence if he wants to.

At a time when our citizens are being accused of being mean-spirited, envious and surly, Twickenham on Saturday was a good place to be. The Scots did not moan or say 'It's not fair', as they could justifiably have done after the serious injury to Craig Chalmers. They were simply disappointed, and rather sad.

Nor were the English triumphalist. They were merely delighted to have witnessed three tries: one good, and two excellent. And everyone was pleased for Stuart Barnes.

However, I am bound to say that the match looked better on television than it did from the stand. All sports commentators 'talk up' the event they are describing, with the exception of Richie Benaud on cricket. Bill McLaren is by no means the worst offender.

On the contrary: he is nearer to Benaud than he is to those overenthusiastic football, racing and, above all, boxing commentators who shall remain mercifully nameless. But even the scholarly and astute McLaren is reluctant clearly to stigmatise play which is foolish, inept or (to use the old Air Force phrase) lacking in moral fibre.

As an example of the last, I will give Graham Shiel's refusal to go for the line after his interception. No doubt one of the English backs would have caught him, but he would have made valuable ground. As for foolishness and ineptitude, Brian Moore should now assume Kevin Phillips's nickname of 'Scud', bestowed because no one knew where the ball was going to land.

Nevertheless, hookers should not be blamed exclusively for inadequacies in the line-out. As the England coach, Dick Best, shrewdly pointed out afterwards, the insistence on the metre gap means that huge men collide with even greater force than they would otherwise have done. Participants should also, in my opinion, be restricted to jumping from a definite position, instead of turning the occasion into a game of musical chairs. But of that, more in a later column.

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