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Tales from a rugby dinner: Justin Marshall, John Taylor, and a certain referee

Roar Guru
8th April, 2014
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1218 Reads

The last weekend in March meant that the IRB Sevens carnival rolled into Hong Kong. Excitement filled the air as ‘Sevens Week’ got into full flow. And it is a full week, even longer for some as rugby nuts start their build up with the Manila 10s tournament the week before.

The Kowloon 10s tournament is the main warm up during the week, along with a huge list of parties, dinners and functions put on by clubs and corporates. The Hong Kong Cricket Club’s rugby section, my club, hosts our annual sevens dinner on the Thursday night before the big show kicks off.

In a black tie, sit down affair, we had two great speakers.

First up was Justin Marshall whose skill behind the commentary mic transferred easily to the stage. He shared some great insights into some of the motivations and drivers of All Black success along with a few anecdotes.

His best was a tale of him and his fellow All Black debutants Andrew Mehrtens, Anton Oliver, Taine Randell and Tabai Matson trying to storm the back seat of the All Blacks bus.

It was a hilarious tale made even funnier by the fact they were trying to take the seats of the then senior All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick, Olo Brown, Craig Dowd, Richard Loe, Robin Brooke and Frank Bunce.

Everyone in the room had an inkling how this attempt would work out but it was great story, well told and well received.

Next up was a man I was not familiar with, Wales and British and Irish Lions flanker and later rugby commentator John Taylor.

Chatting to him after his speech we spoke about a range of rugby topics and Owen Finegan came up. At this stage I realised that I had heard John’s call of the 1999 World Cup Final as we laughed about Melon continuing to look for support as he surged towards the line.

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It was John Taylor in the broadcast booth who thundered out “Just go for it, man!”. A simple piece of commentary that I heard at the time and recall to this day.

The highlight of the night for me was a tale from Taylor about the 1969 Antipodes tour by Wales. They suffered a couple of losses in New Zealand before heading to Sydney to play the Wallabies. Colin Meads asked Taylor who would be refereeing the Test and the answer was Australian Craig Ferguson. Meads warned JT that wasn’t very good.

Taylor asked Pinetree what the issue with Ferguson was and Meads replied that in a recent Bledisloe Cup match he had asked Ferguson whose feed to the scrum it was. Meads knew there was going to be an issue when Ferguson replied “Ours”.

The Sydney Test rolled around, and playing on a wet day on the SCG, Wales had a nine-point lead and felt comfortably in control of the match. Then Ferguson began to swing the match against the Welsh as penalty after penalty flowed to the home team.

In the final play of the game, trailing by five, the Wallabies winger scored a diving, sliding ‘try’ in the corner with the unfortunate evidence where he had torn up the turf while sliding in from outside the touch line ignored by the officials.

One of the defending Welshmen called Ferguson a “bloody cheat” and the referee was quick to leap on the transgression by awarding a penalty to the Wallabies as a restart. The Wallabies were unable to kick the conversion or the resulting 50m penalty and Wales hung on for the win.

That remains the last time the Welsh won on Australian soil.

Taylor then shared how he went up to Ferguson in the bar after the game and called him on his performance.

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Ferguson was unapologetic: “Mate, down here we have four codes of football – rules, league, soccer and there’s union, a very poor fourth. Our blokes need all the help they can get and I’m the man to do it”.

Taylor added the icing to the cake when he shared that two years later in 1971 as he hopped off the plane with the Lions, Ferguson was on the tarmac, in the welcoming committee. “Remember me mate? Craig Ferguson – I’m still a cheating b*****d and I’m refereeing on Saturday!”

Was a great night and we were quite privileged to have such great rugby men from both the amateur and professional era’s to share their experiences with us.

Given the challenges rugby continues to face in this country and the recent controversy around refereeing performances in the Super Rugby I found the anecdote amusing but Ferguson’s comment almost eerie as it seems not a lot has changed in 45 years. Rugby continues to be regarded as the fourth code in Australia and referees are still being criticised for favouring home teams, although hopefully not to this extent.

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