Ruck and Maul: 'Sir Geech' is deserving but not even a knight gets it all right

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The Independent Online

Ian McGeechan's honour as the second Briton after Clive Woodward to be knighted for services to rugby reflects, of course, a quality coaching CV and also the game's new prominence in the open era. There may have been many more candidates in with a shout of a "sir" had rugby not previously been amateur and low-profile. No matter, Geech achieved that rare combination for a professional coach of merging a simple soul for the game with hard pragmatism (picking Rob Andrew over Stuart Barnes on the 1993 Lions tour; selecting Neil Jenkins at full-back in '97). True, a man suffused with Willie John McBride's advice that the fantastic first scrum in 1974 set the tone for the winning series must have hurt like mad when the Lions' pack in this year's opening Test in South Africa got royally turned over. But not even a knight can get everything right. McGeechan joins rugby's gentrified ranks which include three knighted New Zealanders – Wilson Whineray (for services to sport and business), Colin Meads and Brian Lochore – and two Wallabies: Nicholas Shehadie (public office and sport) and Edward "Weary" Dunlop (medicine).

Zak faces the fab four

Injuries to props at Geech's old club Wasps have prompted the signing of Samoa international Zak Taulafo, and the front-rower is on the bench for today's Premiership match against Newcastle. A tussle with Falcons' revered tighthead Carl Hayman would make a distinguished quartet of opponents for the 26-year-old Zak, whose only previous outings this northern hemisphere season were on tour with Samoa in November, during which he faced France's Nicolas Mas, Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni and Wales' Gethin Jenkins.

Outspoken Owens

During the debate which followed the "coming out" of Gareth Thomas, rugby was widely described as a "macho" sport although players – including those who appear in Stade Français' calendar – cheerfully play up to their homo-erotic appeal. Nigel Owens, the Welsh referee, was much in demand for comment and his phone began ringing at 7.30 on the morning of Thomas' newspaper revelation. Always ready with a quip, Owens is less tolerant of players mouthing off. On Boxing Day he allowed Ospreys' Dan Biggar to retake a penalty after hearing the fly-half shouted at during his run-up by Scarlets' scrum-half Martin Roberts. The latter need only read Owens' book 'Half Time' to be more shy of opening his gob. The whistler once chastised a chatterbox Argentinian No 9 with the words "you've got two ears and one mouth, from now on use them in that proportion". Owens was also in charge at Newport Gwent Dragons when he was asked by Austin Healey, the Leicester Lip, whose put-in it was at a scrum. "Ours," said Owens, pointing at the Dragons.

Ticket winners

The winners of last week's competition to win tickets to the Guinness Premiership matches of their choosing were Andy Williams, who chose to watch Gloucester versus Worcester, Mark Shanahan (Wasps v Newcastle), Francis Cassidy (Saracens v Leicester), David Johnston-Smith (Sale v Harlequins) and Matthew Bloomer (Northampton v London Irish). Our thanks to all those who entered.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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