SPORT / Forget the rest, who were the best in '93?: Rugby Union: Supreme centre is the role model - Jeremy Guscott

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The Independent Online
HE MAY have all but slipped from view, and folk, not least in his own club, may be wondering if he will play again this season but, however you look at 1993, even a part-time Jeremy Guscott is still the best.

Guscott did not even play in England's famous victory over the All Blacks, and he has a groin injury which has restricted him to two appearances for Bath this season. Let us be honest: he has been neither busy enough nor consistently brilliant enough. But to be the best of '93, better than all the rest, I submit that a one-off was enough. None of us present in Christchurch on 2 June to witness Guscott's all-consuming exhibition of the artistry and science of centre play will easily forget it.

It was the fourth match of the British Isles' tour of New Zealand. In each of the previous three there had been periods, usually early on, of such intense pressure by the home side that you felt it would be better for the Lions to have done with it, concede a score and then perhaps they could start all over again.

So it was at Lancaster Park. Canterbury have changed - no longer the formidable forward force of old, they actually prefer to run with the ball - and that they failed to make any initial breakthrough was down almost exclusively to Guscott. Not Guscott the irresistible attacking force but Guscott the immovable defensive object.

The match was perfect for him. On a saturated pitch which made handling problematic, he began with three try-saving tackles, continued with the Lions' first try and later added a piece of intuitive skill which created a try for Tony Underwood.

Then there were all the brilliant things Guscott did in between. Had he not thrown a wild pass and dropped another when the game was already won (28-10 in the end), it would have been as close to perfection as you could get in this imperfect rugby world. 'I think we could make something of him,' Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, quipped.

With Guscott's great day consigned to memory, we can only imagine what we are missing now that his rugby involvement is temporarily (well we hope it is temporary) reduced to spectating. At 27, he is in his prime as long as his fitness permits him to demonstrate as much in that characteristically languid way of his.

If Canterbury was the defining match, the defining moments came with an England try against Scotland, when he was neither instigator nor scorer. Stuart Barnes was the one and Rory Underwood the other, but when Guscott took the ball from Barnes, stepped on the gas and gave the most exquisite pass to Underwood, 58,000 (as Twickenham then held) knew they were in the presence of rugby genius.

At the same time, some people are never satisfied. Guscott is sometimes - too often for his own liking - criticised for being stand-offish and even more so for failing match by match to exploit all that God-given talent. As if he can just flick a switch . . .

Anyway, to the first point he retorts: 'I believe I'm approachable and I'll talk to anyone. I'm old enough, big enough and mature enough to answer any criticism and accept any praise.' He may choose his moment and always leave us all begging for more, but Jeremy Guscott is still my best of '93.

(Photograph omitted)

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