Personae non gratae
July 8, 2010
Another name off the Christmas card list for Sonny Bill © Getty Images
The Tri-Nations is on our doorstep. The Springboks and All Blacks will slug it out at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday, with no love lost between two of the game's greatest rivals. Wearing No.9 for the defending champions will be Ricky Januarie, whose season so far has been far from plain sailing.
Accused at home of not being up to the task after failing to nail down a starting spot at the Stormers, he must fill the canoe-like boots of Fourie du Preez. We don't fancy his chances of winning any new friends; the jury appears to be unshakeable. With his plight in mind we've dredged the history books for a Scrum Seven featuring players who at certain points during their career would have struggled to impress at a traffic wardens' convention.
Sonny Bill's exit from the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008 burned bridges in spectacular fashion. The talented Kiwi international walked out on his NRL employers for a megabucks deal in France with Toulon, and the fact the he has since returned home, shunning the cash on offer in the north, will have done little to mend friendships. In 2008, lads' mag Zoo published a public poll placing Williams as the most hated man in Australia, edging out Bali bomber Amrozi bin Nurhasyim for top spot. "Sonny Bill is someone who did something no Australian should do, he ditched his team-mates and walked out," Zoo editor Paul Merrill told AAP. "We're calling him Money Bill Williams for scarpering off to another continent just for the cash." We couldn't face telling them that Williams is in fact from New Zealand, so scarred are we by the fact that Toadie from Aussie soap Neighbours also made the list.
Luke Watson (South Africa) - 2009
A guest speaker at the Umbumbo Rugby Festival at the University of Cape Town Rugby Club, Watson was alleged to have said "the problem with South African rugby is that it is controlled by Dutchmen", while also suggesting that South African rugby is "rotten to the core" and that he wanted "to vomit on the Springbok jersey". What followed cast Stormers skipper Watson as public enemy No.1 in South Africa, an eventuality seemingly on the cards since his Springbok selection in 2007 was forced through by SARU chief Oregan Hoskins. Watson's father, Cheeky, was a leading anti-apartheid activist and his son certainly was not shy in coming forward in 2009 when welcomed by deafening boos, and signs from '50,000 Dutchmen', at Loftus Versfeld as his side faced the Bulls. "He [Watson] never tried to become a part of us," Springbok skipper John Smit wrote in his autobiography. "I think he really wanted to play for South Africa, but couldn't stand the environment, and the truth is that he irritated the living s**t out of the guys. I had players in my ear about him every flipping day. He was referred to as "the cancer" of the team."
The captaincy of a Lions tour is an honour bestowed on precious few players. In 1983 the mantle fell to Irish hooker Ciaran Fitzgerald, who had led his side to a share of the Five Nations title that season. Fitzgerald's tenure was not a happy one. With England's Peter Wheeler left seething at home as the prime candidate to wear the No.2 jersey against the All Blacks, Fitzgerald was, in the eyes of the press, doomed from the start. When Scotland's Colin Deans emerged as the form hooker on tour, Fitzgerald was on the precipice. Terrible Test showings and a 4-0 series defeat earned him the harsh nickname 'Captain Calamity' and ensured there was no miracle recovery. "In 1983, Ciaran was a captain of a good Irish team, with experience round about him, but, come the Lions, he disappeared and went into his shell," Deans later said.
Adam Jones (Wales) - 2003
Now a regular fixture of Welsh rugby, Adam Jones endured a miserable start to his Test career under current All Black assistant Steve Hansen. The 'hair bear' tight-head was deemed unfit to complete a Test match, being regularly, not to mention humiliatingly, hauled from the field after half-an-hour. "Steve used to wreck me when he was Wales coach. I can't say what I really think of him," he said later. "He used to take me off after half an hour and I didn't really see eye-to-eye with him." The last laugh was to be the player's, with two Grand Slams and Test caps for the Lions following in the wake of his years as Wales' 'half-an-hour man'.
Doug Hopwood (South Africa) - 1965
Hopwood's place on this list is no reflection on his status as one of South Africa's all-time greats, rather a lament for what could have been had he not been ostracised by the men in power. A brilliant No.8 and inspirational captain for Western Province, his rightful place as South African captain for their 1965 tour to Europe was stolen away thanks to the politicking and racial agenda that soured the nation. As a man of British descent, Hopwood was a no-go for the South African Rugby Board's Afrikaaner broederbond, who vetoed the selectors' choice. Avril Malan, who led the Boks on their 1960 Grand Slam tour, was installed in his place for what was a miserable tour. "Almost 40 years on, players of the day recall the saga and their eyes fire with anger at what still seems to have been a blatant example of discrimination," Edward Griffiths wrote of the tour.
England's floundering, dire win over Italy in the 2010 Six Nations marked a low point in the tenure of skipper Steve Borthwick and a low ebb for the usually universally acclaimed Wilkinson. Borthwick, skating on thin ice after an underwhelming November schedule, unwittingly unleashed upon himself the full might of the press corps by describing his side's Rome slog as 'fantastic'. Poorly chosen adjectives were swiftly married to Wilkinson's faltering display by many, who having failed to watch the pivot's excellent performances for Toulon that season, wrote him off. Wilkinson lost his place following another misfire against Scotland, cast aside like the record that changed your life when you were 13, and Borthwick was cut adrift in the summer.