Ruck and Maul: Ripley dodged the bullets but McKinney's book hits the mark

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The Independent Online

A book of rugby recollections, 'Voices from the Back of the Bus', has been brought together by Stewart McKinney, the Dungannon and Ireland flanker who toured with the 1974 Lions. What began as a hobby, prompted by an epiphanous moment at the memorial service for former Ireland coach Jimmy Davidson in 2007, has turned into 250 pages of contributions from more than 100 players: half of them Lions and almost all of them contemporaries of McKinney from the amateur days. There are wistful reminiscences and laugh-out-loud anecdotes of adventure and ribald misadventure. McKinney's own favourite? David Duckham's description of England's 1973 trip to Dublin at the height of the Troubles. Those England players who would have preferred to slip into Ireland quietly were dumbfounded by the large sign on the windscreen of their coach – "England Rugby Team" – not to mention the armed police outriders. "For the entire journey to the Shelbourne Hotel," Duckham writes, "Andy Ripley rocked back and forth in his window seat. Asked why, he replied, 'I'm trying to make it more difficult for the snipers'." The British Heart Foundation will receive 50 per cent of royalties from the book, and Ruck and Maul heartily recommends it.

Armchair fans are ensured

Premier Rugby thumbed their noses at the recession with a press conference in the City of London offices of their new sponsors, QBE. Having agreed to pump around £3m into the English club game, the insurance company might be rivals to Guinness when the Premiership's title sponsorship is up for grabs next summer. Despite a modest increase of three per cent in attendances this season – and some clubs' crowds are down – Premier Rugby want to more than double the number of Premiership matches televised live next year, from 33 to 69. Sky have signed up for 26, but the collapse of Setanta has freed up two more packages, one of them including the Twickenham final. A terrestrial offer appears unlikely, the internet (à la Ukraine versus England) has been ruled out for now, so Sky and ESPN are expected to take up the slack.

London's crowded schedule

But when best to play? The debate over kick-off times keeps on kicking off. The Premiership live matches, before the play-offs, would be spread across Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with a 2.45pm slot on Saturdays when Premier League football is banned from the screens. If the aim is to maximise attendances, perhaps someone should explain last weekend's Saturday fixture list in the rugby hotbed of south-west London. All the area's professional sides – London Irish, Harlequins and London Welsh – were at home. So, too, were (going down the leagues) London Scottish, Ealing and Rosslyn Park, plus London Irish Amateurs, London South Africa and Harlequins Amateurs, though the latter just about had time to get to the Stoop for their professional cousins' kick-off at 6pm.

Lions' mane attraction

Thanks for the great response to last week's British & Irish Lions competition. The winner of the goody bag is Oliver Harsk of Gosforth, Newcastle. The 10 runners-up, who each receive the new Lions DVD, are John Barlow, Linda Savas, Philip Crowley, Bob Savage, Elizabeth MacAulay, David Doodson, Dave Morgan, Friedrich J Sutton, Martin Rix and Martin Matthias.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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