Hall of Fame honour for three of Ireland's greats
THE international rugby Hall of Fame Trust held its inaugural induction ceremony, for what has been voted the ``first fifteen'' in the history of the game, at a dinner last night at the Hilton Hotel on London's Park Lane.
There were 750 guests from all over the world at the glittering function, paying tribute to the famous fifteen which includes three Irish Tony O'Reilly, Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson.
Indeed, a remarkable total from one of the smaller countries, underlining again the quite disproportionate contribution of Irish rugby to the world game.
The largest number among the Hall of Fame inductees were the four from Wales, Cliff Morgan, JPR Williams, Barry John and Gareth Edwards.
There were two honoured from South Africa (Frik du Preez and the late Danie Craven), New Zealand (Colin Meads and the late great fullback George Nepia) and the French pair, Serge Blanco and Jean-Pierre Rives.
Mark Ella was the lone Australian and Hugo Porta, a famed outhalf for Argentina and, more lately, his country's ambassador to South Africa, is also in this list of the most famous.
Remarkably, there were no English or Scots chosen.
The fifteen were selected by 24 rugby writers and commentators from eleven countries including to name just a few Keith Quinn and Terry McLean from New Zealand, the BBC's Bill McLaren and Nigel Starmer-Smith, Chris Rea, John Reason, Norman Mair, Henri Garcia, Dan Retief, and this reporter from Ireland.
The trustees of the International Hall of Fame include Jeff Butterfield, Morne du Plessis, Nick Farr-Jones, Andy Irvine and Wilson Whineray.
They recognise that there are many national institutions honouring their own countries' players and administrators but the International Trust represents global recognition of the achievements in the game.
There will not be many arguments about the choice of the Irish trio, though the names of Jack Kyle, Noel Murphy and Fergus Slattery will hardly have been much lower in the voting.
The votes were overseen by an accountancy firm and the only Irish voters among the 24 in the eleven-country panel were myself and Edmund Van Esbeck.
The three Irish players still hold the records for Lions caps in their respective positions.
McBride appeared 17 times in five tours, Gibson was eight times a centre and four times an outhalf and O'Reilly played nine times on the wing and once at centre.
What all fifteen have in common is that each is a distinct personality, transcending that of mere athleticism, considerable as that may be.
Séan Fitzpatrick, the All Blacks skipper, whose side faces England tomorrow, took time off to accept the award for the late George Nepia and Arthur Petersen, the South African team manager received the award for the late Danie Craven.
THE FAMED FIFTEEN
Serge Blanco (France): Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Serge lives in Biarritz. He has played 93 times at fullback for France and has scored a record 38 tries for France. The Irish record, incidentally, is 17.
Jean Pierre Rives (France): Began his career with Toulouse but graduated to the brighter lights of Paris and Racing Club. He has played 59 times at flanker for France, a record 34 times as captain of his country.
Gareth Edwards (Wales): Accepted as the best scrumhalf, speedy, strong and totally committed. He played 53 times for Wales and ten tests for the Lions.
Willie John McBride (Ireland): The most famous tourist of all. Five Lions tours, 1962-68 and '74 to South Africa and 1966 and '71 to New Zealand and the victorious captain of the '74 side in South Africa. His duels with fellow Hall of Fame recipient, Colin Meads, were a feature of the time.
Barry John (Wales): King John they called him in the 1971 tour of New Zealand when his sheer effrontery in attack captivated the New Zealander audiences. Barry played 25 times for Wales, surprising everyone when he retired at 27.
JPR Williams (Wales): JPR could have been a top rank tennis player. He won junior Wimbledon in 1966, beating the future Davis Cup player, David Lloyd. Instead it was rugby. 55 caps and still the most capped fullback for Wales.
Tony O'Reilly (Ireland): It was on the wider spaces of South Africa and New Zealand, when the inside backs gave him the ball in 1955 and 1959, that O'Reilly, big, committed and very fast, revealed how good he really was. He still holds many Lions records, including six tries in ten tests. He scored 22 tries in 23 appearances in the '59 tour, which included 17 tries in 17 appearances in New Zealand. Those feats are unlikely to be surpassed.
Mark Ella (Australia): The suave, elusive outhalf who floated around the opposition like a character out of Crocodile Dundee. In the Australian's Grand Slam here in 1984 he scored a try in each of the four tests.
Mike Gibson (Ireland): In many an expert opinion the greatest centre ever. He was skilled in every facet of the game, handling, kicking, tackling. A deep thinker, he had total recall of virtually everly movement in the games he played. The most capped Irish player with 69.
Colin Meads (New Zealand): Accepted as New Zealand's greatest lock, ``Pine Tree,'' from King Country was the toughest of opponents. He played 55 times for New Zealand, a reign lasting from 1957 to 1971.
Cliff Morgan (Wales): Singer, commentator, broadcaster, author and the highly effective master gnome of the Welsh teams of the fifties. Played for Cardiff, Barbarians, Lions and Bective Rangers.
Hugo Porta (Argentina): The greatest player to come out of South American rugby, Hugo was an all-round and highly accomplished outhalf. He was also well regarded for his courtesy and sportsmanship on the field of play.
Frik du Preez (South Africa): Frik played 38 times for South Africa from 1961 to 1971 mostly as a lock, a few times as a flanker. He was acknowledged as one of the great locks of his era and a noted opponent of the touring Lions in 1962 and 1968.
Danie Craven (South Africa): A noted scrumhalf and the inventor of the ``dive pass'' in the thirties. The late Danie captained South Africa, coached South Africa and then became their long-reigning president of the SARB and one of rugby's most influential administrators on the International Board.
George Nepia (New Zealand): One of the legendary All Blacks full-backs whose mighty kicking was famous. He played in 39 consecutive matches for New Zealand and had a long career, playing twice for East Coast at the age of 42.