Ruck and Maul: 'You can't trick God' says Jones, who knows what day it is

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The Independent Online

The news that Northampton's devoutly Christian prop Euan Murray will sit out Scotland's first match of the 2010 Six Nations Championship against France in Paris due to it being on a Sunday caused quite a stir. However, there have been similar acts of faith, including by athletes Jonathan Edwards and Barrington Williams, cricketer David Sheppard and rugby's own All Black flanker Michael Jones, who missed the 1991 World Cup semi-final defeat by Australia and was omitted from the 1995 tournament to avoid any repeat. The 1991 match was in Dublin and it was pointed out in some desperation to Jones that Sunday afternoon in Ireland was Monday morning at home in New Zealand. "You can't trick God," Jones said. "It is where you are at the time, and Sunday wherever you are is the day that has been put aside for church and fellowship." Most famously, Eric Liddell's withdrawal from the 100 yards in the 1924 Olympic Games was depicted in the film 'Chariots of Fire'. Fortunately for Liddell, who played rugby for Edinburgh University, his international debut as a 19-year-old winger for Scotland – against France in Paris on 2 January 1922 – was on a Monday. According to John Keddie's biography, 'Running the Race', Liddell refused to organise sports on the Lord's Day even in the Second World War internment camp in China where he was to meet his death, apart from refereeing kids' hockey games which would otherwise have degenerated into all-out scraps.

TV deal turns off regulars

As predicted in this column eight weeks ago, ESPN have joined Sky as broadcasters of live Guinness Premiership matches from next season, filling a hole left by the collapse of Setanta. For £30million over three years, ESPN – who are jointly owned by Disney subsidiary ABC and the Hearst Corporation – will show 43 live games a season to Sky's 26, including exclusive coverage of the Twickenham final hitherto shown by Sky but conceded by them in the original Setanta deal. With live Premiership matches on Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, there is a 50 per cent chance of seeing your club on any given weekend – the same as buying a home season ticket and going in person.

Draw your conclusions

The stalemate count in the Guinness Premiership has reached record proportions, not even halfway through the season, with eight draws in the first 10 rounds of matches and 12 more rounds to come. This is the 13th year of home and away fixtures in a 12-team top division, and the previous record was seven draws in 2003-04 and 2005-06, while the lowest number was two in 2000-01. Worcester will host Northampton on Boxing Day looking for a win, we assume, after an unprecedented three ties in a row.

Merry Christmas Davies

Finally, a seasonal nugget from the book 'Rugby On This Day' (Pitch Publishing). The date is 25 December 1916, the place Burry Port near Llanelli. A bouncing baby boy enters the world, and he will go on to earn six caps as a full-back for Wales, but what to call him? Noel? Nicholas? Rudolph? No, meet Christmas Davies, who unsurprisingly went under his middle name Howard when he played for his country. If only Slade lead singer Noddy Holder had been around to serenade him at the manger with: "It's Christmas!"