‘You are the best in the world’ and other lies coaches told me

Harry Jones Roar Guru

By Harry Jones, Harry Jones is a Roar Guru


96 Have your say

    The first time I faced Pacific Island opposition on the rugby pitch, I was aware of a certain size differential.

    I’m not tiny. Recently, for the first time since I was in school, I managed to go below 100 kg. To do that, I had to eat air and tree bark while running 18 kilometres a day. For most of my adult life, the scale has read 110 kg or above.

    But the first time I saw Samoans practising, I noticed their knees. Even devoid of surplus fat, their knees looked a good hand bigger around than mine. Which made me think about how much tackling them would hurt, purely due to physics.

    Then I saw them wearing skirts. And I thought: “Those are not kilts. Those are actual skirts. And yet all I want to say is: ‘Hullo, I hope you are having a good day, my friends.'”

    But I consoled myself with the illusion that they must be lumbering and slow.

    Our coaches fed our delusion.

    “You are the best rugby players of your age in South Africa. Which means you are the best in the world. And the toughest. You are superior. If we made more babies, we’d rule the world. Show them who is the boss.”

    As we ran out to the cold field and found ourselves looking at giants. Every boy looked like he’d eaten a hog that morning with bare hands. And again, I looked at their knees.

    I thought: “Our coaches lied.”

    Look at the outside backs the New Zealand Super Rugby teams are running out there.


    (AAP Image/ David Rowland)

    Julian Savea looks like a prop who drank jet fuel. His 108kg is smooth, painful, and an instrument of blunt force trauma. The Highlanders’ Patrick Osborne is a nightmarishly solid 105 kg. Blindside flanker posing as winger Seta Tamanivalu of the Crusaders can complete three dummy offloads and a real offload in one play.

    James Lowe is fast and he is heavier than Jaco Kriel and all the other opensiders from South African teams. Rieko Ioane is a bullet train that ate a freight train.

    Even the exceptions, Ben Smith and Damian McKenzie, compensate by slithering around into narrow nooks.

    But make no mistake, Kiwi backs are too big, too fast, too ham-handed, too rough and tough, too everything in one package, to defend in full flight.

    Resistance is futile if the defender is a normal backline player. With a full head of steam, it is just a concussion waiting to happen.

    Just as in our match long ago, when I realised how ignorant apartheid’s view of relative size was, tackling these big units from the bottom of the Pacific is like catching howitzers while someone hits you with a cricket bat in the ribs.

    So, at halftime, even though we were ahead on the scoreboard due to our scrum and our flyhalf’s clever kicks, we were tired and bashed and ready to surrender.

    But our coaches told us the next lie: “Tackle them around the ankles. Nobody’s ankles are bigger than another man’s.”

    Um, actually, that’s really not true. Some ankles look like the pedestals on statues that hold up a building.

    Have you ever gone really low to tackle someone far larger than you? As you start to do it, you have these strange primaeval thoughts about being alone in the universe, without a benevolent creator and even, maybe, you have no friends in that moment.

    And so you end up halfway up and backpedalling. Until a hand the size of a tennis racquet, one of the old ones, rams your nose into your perturbed brain.

    How big are these wingers and fullbacks going to get?

    Even the Kiwis without Pacific Island heritage seem to have evolved to compete. When Jordie Barrett pinched the ball from Nizaam Carr’s arms and scored last week, it seemed as if Barrett was the No.8 and Carr was the little wing.

    Yet our coaches still lie to us.

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    The Crowd Says (96)

    • May 10th 2017 @ 10:52am
      Rugby Tragic said | May 10th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      Haha! …good one Harry

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 1:06am
        Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:06am | ! Report

        Thanks, my friend. We did win, though.

        • May 11th 2017 @ 7:51am
          Ben said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

          Samoan = lavalava
          Fijian = Sulu
          Tongan = Tupenu

          Not skirts…thats like the Springboks green socks with the gold bands being “stockings”.

          • May 11th 2017 @ 7:06pm
            haribaldi said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:06pm | ! Report


          • May 14th 2017 @ 1:22am
            Wardad said | May 14th 2017 @ 1:22am | ! Report

            You forgot the mumu like my Dad wore in summer ,horrifying to me to say the least as a lad.

        • May 14th 2017 @ 1:18am
          Wardad said | May 14th 2017 @ 1:18am | ! Report

          Funny as Harry! ,reminded of my being asked to play for a League team in Broken Hill at one of the numerous pubs back in the early 80s.Next day some nut job picks me up and spends the next hour chasing players who seemed rather desperate to avoid him .When we arrived at the ground I saw why ,the largest most evil looking crew since Blackbeards First XV turned out to play Hone Hekes Pole Cutters at home.While changing and uttering prayers to Budda ,Ganish ,Jehovah and any other deities I could think of the coach noticed the still sutured scar-line from a screw inserted into my shoulder following a motorcycle accident.”Jeezum crow boy yer cant play like that ,those bastards will rip your arm orf and beat us all to death with the wet end !” so I watched the game honour and arms intact and got to have a free beer or several for my troubles .My protestations as to my fitness and desire to play being just enough to raise my stature without having my actual height lowered by being beaten into the ground like a tent peg .

    • May 10th 2017 @ 11:16am
      Jacko said | May 10th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

      thanks Harry, most enjoyable. Its OK to be 2nd best LOL

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 1:07am
        Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:07am | ! Report

        It was definitely a Pyhhric victory for us.

    • Roar Guru

      May 10th 2017 @ 11:20am
      Fionn said | May 10th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

      Yet another lesson that could be heeded by Australian rugby, Harry. Weight divisions rather than age divisions, please. I remember the nightmare of going from about U/12s to U/13s and suddenly every team had 2-3 players that were roughly double my height and weight, without being fat. They looked like men already, and it took the rest of us Anglo/European boys 5+ yeas to even vaguely catch up in size.

      • May 10th 2017 @ 2:02pm
        Fujimo said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

        I remember one of my sons, a late-developing scrum half, playing U15 rugby in Sydney’s west against a No. 8 twice his size (and this ‘lad’ getting into a car after the game to drive home). Definitely time for weight divisions in U13 and U15 rugby.

      • May 10th 2017 @ 5:13pm
        ethan said | May 10th 2017 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

        Yes, it was U/11’s (maybe 12s or 13s) I believe I recall one game it took literally 8 of our guys to bring down one massive Pacific Island opponent. If you put 4 guys on him he would just carry them up the field like wearing a backpack. Needless to say, we lost that game, by a very large margin.

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 1:08am
        Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:08am | ! Report

        Yes, we played a Greek team when U13. Their guys all had a Spiro-stache, smoked, and had huge hairy forearms. Then when we faced them at U16, they hadn’t grown at all.

        • May 14th 2017 @ 1:20am
          Wardad said | May 14th 2017 @ 1:20am | ! Report

          Bet their ‘taches had !

    • May 10th 2017 @ 11:29am
      ShaghaiDoc said | May 10th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      The little Pakehas, like McAwesome, Barretts, and etc, have spent their entire lives being monstered by those train wreckers and they do ok. They learn to get smart and get off the menu for the post-game hangi (Braai).
      I am told that Pakeha means long pig and the Polynesians and Melanesians gave up eating them because they made them sick, a bit like pigbel in Papua New Guinea, which is now down to Clostridium difficile.
      Coincidentally small Kiwis learn how to dive and end up playing soccer.

      • May 10th 2017 @ 11:50am
        John said | May 10th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        In NZ there is a lot of hard work and time taken to prepare a hangi and quite a few beers are washed down while digging the holes and waiting for the fire to heat up the volcanic rocks and besa blocks. Every Pakeha knows that if you are of a small stature and have been invited to a hangi then you always turn up late in case the lads make a mistake and put the wrong pig in the hangi.

      • May 10th 2017 @ 12:35pm
        P2R2 said | May 10th 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        Pakeha means – white being….who ever told you that LIED to you and you bought it

        • May 11th 2017 @ 8:04am
          Ben said | May 11th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

          Maori …Pig = poaka
          White = ma

          • Roar Rookie

            May 11th 2017 @ 3:54pm
            piru said | May 11th 2017 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

            ma is white
            whero is red
            kakariki green..

            • Roar Rookie

              May 12th 2017 @ 2:50pm
              piru said | May 12th 2017 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

              For the record a spat of google research tells me ‘long pig’ was the term used by the Polynesians of the Marquesas Islands for human flesh

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 1:09am
        Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:09am | ! Report

        We weren’t that smart. I just kept running into Samoans and pretending it was ok.

      • May 11th 2017 @ 2:04am
        Carlos the Argie said | May 11th 2017 @ 2:04am | ! Report

        Pigpel is not due to C Diff, but a variant called C. Perfringens Type C. It is a Beta Toxin from this bacteria that causes the damage.

        And yes, I am a nerd. Sorry for that.

        I just got back late last night from the American Gastroenterology Congress (DDW), so I had no rugby and too much gastro academic stuff in my diet for five days. Hope to catch up this week.

        • May 11th 2017 @ 2:12pm
          Tissotime said | May 11th 2017 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

          CtA any update confirming the ARU has been on repeat cycles of FMT?

          • May 12th 2017 @ 3:38am
            Carlos the Argie said | May 12th 2017 @ 3:38am | ! Report


            Eating someone else healthy poo is still the best treatment for C Diff. I don’t know, however, if it works for ARU’s issues.

            I suggest that they should try it.

      • May 11th 2017 @ 7:53am
        Ben said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

        Pakeha means long pig!!!
        Where’d you get that from?
        Lol what a load…….

      • May 11th 2017 @ 2:34pm
        aussikiwi said | May 11th 2017 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

        Yes that might explain why the “little pakehas” all seem to develop such excellent evasion skills and the abity to find gaps that don’t exist.

    • Roar Guru

      May 10th 2017 @ 11:44am
      The Neutral View From Sweden said | May 10th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

      LOL! Very enjoyable read HJ.
      And some cracking lines:

      “If we made more babies, we’d rule the world”

      “Rieko Ioane is a bullet train that ate a freight train”

      That one made me think of Ray Hudson (football commentator that has the ultimate man crush on Lionel Messi). When Messi defeated arch rival Real Madrid by himself – almost – a few weeks ago, Mr Husdon did not hold back:

      “AAHHHHHHHHHH! Again! The menacing man arrives and sinks his flaming spear into the hearts of Real Madrid! Astonishing from Messi! Beautiful counterattack! All the pieces falling into place! Messi, born in the crossfire hurricane, and he is jumping jack flash right here! Amazing football! … Messi! You could drop a tarantula into his shorts and he’ll still be cool. Demonic skill from Sergi [Roberto], picks the right pass out of his pocket. Gomes leaves it back, Jordi Alba sells it, Messi catapults it home. And again if he’s shown a Rorschach Blot, he’d see goals all day. And decently majestic football in the end to pull this out of the fire.”

      This is also great Harry:

      “As you start to do it, you have these strange primaeval thoughts about being alone in the universe, without a benevolent creator and even, maybe, you have no friends in that moment.”

      Reminds me of the famous quote that the third astronaut on the first Apollo moon landing mission said about being alone circling above the dark side of the moon with no possibility to contact anyone:

      “Not since Adam has any man known such solitude”

      • May 10th 2017 @ 2:29pm
        CUW said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

        Maj. General Michael Collins – the 3rd wheel of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – a man almost forgotten in history.

      • May 10th 2017 @ 11:46pm
        Mukhtar said | May 10th 2017 @ 11:46pm | ! Report

        Yep, many anecdotes in this piece that had me snorting with mirth – thanks, Harry!
        By the way, Ray is hyperbolic on football in general, and you would enjoy his commentary of matches that do not involve Barca, too..
        Well, he does seem to like Messi, especially.. But, who doesn’t… 🙂
        Have a good evening, TNVfS!

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 1:10am
        Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:10am | ! Report

        Great post, Viking.

    • Roar Rookie

      May 10th 2017 @ 12:59pm
      Paul D said | May 10th 2017 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

      This is the pain that pretty much ended my playing days. I was a loose forward at heart hiding inside a scrumhalves body (and the smallest scrumhalf you’ve ever seen too). The piggies just outsized me by too big a margin

      I ended up playing 13 just because I was fast and a reliable tackler, but lacked any of the skill to be a real back. Couldn’t kick to save myself and my passing was barely passable 🙂

      I could possibly have stuck with it in some form and improved my skills, but that time has passed.

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 1:11am
        Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:11am | ! Report

        Speed isn’t a bad thing! It’s just a problem when the other guy is also fast and has knees the size of a 50-year oak tree.