Rugby Union: United in spite of the Union

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The Independent Online
ON SUNDAY I was cheering England on from my armchair with more enthusiasm than I can normally muster for the national side. There were three reasons for my unwanted zeal on their behalf.

First, a victory for them would embarrass - it certainly ought to embarrass - the Rugby Football Union. Second, it would annoy the boorish Scots even more. And, third, it would provide a fitting climax to the career of Andrew Harriman.

It was understandable that the authorities did not want members of the Lions party to play in the World Cup Sevens. But the mean-spirited attitude of the RFU beggars belief. The Union excluded members not only of the national XV but, with the exception of Tim Rodber, of the national squad. It refused to send an English squad to the Hong Kong Sevens at all.

Altogether, it treated the Edinburgh side as small boys to whom it had given a fiver each to stop making a nuisance of themselves and to go off to the fairground to enjoy themselves. I trust Dudley Wood is prostrate with contrition.

As to the Scots, I do not want to be adjudged guilty of what is now called racial stereotyping. Those I have met have always impressed me with their politeness, knowledge of rugby and command of the English language. They are the reverse of boorish. But there is no doubt that the Murrayfield crowd behaved appallingly. A Cardiff crowd would not have conducted themselves in that way if England had been in the final and Wales had not.

Nor was an attitude of lofty deprecation confined to the RFU. The BBC was equally dismissive. I should have expected England's triumph to be the last of the top headlines on the principal bulletin that evening. Not only was it omitted from the headlines. It was given only a brief mention at the very end of the sports news, after the football news, showing only a glimpse of Rodber's try. This was a shameful performance.

It goes without saying that Independent Television's coverage was more lengthy, but here too there are adverse criticisms to be made. While John Taylor and Bob Symonds were their usual competent selves, I have doubts about the value of Steve Smith as a sevens expert. And I should have liked to see the show anchored by a rugby man rather than by Jim Rosenthal, who does not appear to number the handling code among his areas of expertise.

Will Carling knows a lot about the game, but why my colleagues describe him as 'articulate' defeats me. He appears to find difficulty in stringing the simplest sentence together. Gavin Hastings seems considerably more at ease with the spoken word.

However, the principal criticism to be made of Sunday afternoon's programme was that Rosenthal was unable to explain the rules for pairing off in the semi-finals. This, however, was part of a wider failing: that, until the semi-finalists actually appeared, it was difficult to tell who stood where and who had to beat whom. As the afternoon progressed, there was a marked reluctance to show simple tables.

The triumph of Harriman is also, alas, the occasion for a further grumble on my part. For nearly five years - before his solitary cap against Australia in 1988 - I had been urging the selectors to give him a fair run in the England side. Indeed, Harriman has been one of my lost causes along with Aled Williams and Lyn Jones in Wales.

The trouble is that Harriman is the kind of player who naturally attracts the antipathy of the forces of authority. He is languid in his movements. He appears cocky, even conceited. Barry John, a different physical type and a much greater footballer, had the same qualities. It is a wonder that John played for Wales as often as he did.

Many years ago at Twickenham, I saw Harriman, at the start of his career the Quins' second or third-choice right wing as he is today, play against Rory Underwood for Leicester. In one half Underwood passed Harriman, who caught him. In the other half, Harriman passed Underwood, who failed to catch him. Since then, what a waste]

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