Thursday 26 April 2018

Blanco and Campese leave modern stars in shade

Saturday View

Sean Diffley

In the matter of character, personality and charisma I would assert that some of those from the pre-professional era of rugby are top of the pops.

From the variety of their contributions, none from the modern era can be said to rival Jean Pierre Rives and Willie Duggan, who regularly presented their heads where even a Roman gladiator wouldn't risk his boots.

Famously emerging with bloodied heads, and now and then sans cigarettes, the duo have survived against all the rules of the average, Rives, with his studio in Paris, a Renoir of today and Duggan famed as the only notable in the city of Kilkenny who doesn't play hurling.

I saw opposing each other in the semi-final of the first World Cup back in 1987, Serge Blanco and David Campese, who played rugby with romantic abandonment, brilliantly skilful stuff interspersed with the odd hint of Walter Mitty.

Today, Blanco will be in the stands watching the Irish and French 'warm up' in Bordeaux, but Campese will be elsewhere, having retired in 1999 with an archetypal farewell: "I'm going to leave it to the new generation, to those crash-it-up robots that now dominate the game."

In that famous semi-final in the Concord Oval in Sydney 24 years ago Blanco made that famous error, with the score level at 21-21 and only three minutes left. He tried to beat too many opponents in his own '22' and sent a hospital pass to Didier Camberabero, who conceded a desperate penalty, which Michael Lynagh kicked.

But with seconds left Camberabero kicked a saving penalty for the French and Blanco breathed again. And it was not over yet. There were sweeping movements, mostly involving Blanco and Campese, the volatile Campese one minute spilling easy passes, the next blithely slipping through the French defence.

Then the winning score. Lynagh was caught, the ball went loose, the French kicked it on and it came left to Blanco who made 25 yards before scoring in the corner. Camberabero converted from the touchline, the whistle blew, France were in the final a week later at Eden Park.

The other semi-final was a dodge for the All Blacks, who beat the Welsh 40-6. It was a tired France who were tepid opponents in the final and New Zealand, on their home heath, won their first and only World Cup 29-9.

Today in Bordeaux there will be no Blanco to bamboozle the opposition, no Campese to goose-step his way through the ambitions of tacklers, but 30 or 40 hopefuls concerned about avoiding injury and being fit to take their seat on the plane for New Zealand.

Nobody forecasts that events will be entertaining and I, for one, haven't a clue what Declan Kidney's policy is in this meandering in France.

Irish Independent

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