Light-hearted comments have a serious side

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 September, 1999, 12:00am

Rugby commentator Chris 'Buddha' Handy succinctly introduced All Black great John Kirwan as 'Auckland surf bum and butcher' at last Friday's sidesplitting Sevens Long Lunch.

It was one long laugh as more than 500 people were entertained by hilarious Handy who was in absolutely top form, continually taking digs at everyone from Kiwis to Stuart Barnes, his fellow-master-of-ceremonies.

Early in the proceedings, just as Barnes was struggling (it was his first time at the Lunch) to find his feet and repartee, the quick-witted Australian goaded the former England international, saying 'you don't bring a knife to a gunfight'.

Yes it was all in good fun. But in the midst of all this frivolity, Kirwan had a few sobering words to say when he pointed out the way the International Rugby Board's eligibility requirements were being used by some countries at the World Cup.

His butcher's training made him perhaps cut straight to this huge bone of contention when he said that it was plainly absurd that countries use 'foreign' players in their national squads.

He was specifically referring to our neighbours Japan, Asian champions, who have included five New Zealanders and a Fijian in their World Cup squad.

Three of the Kiwis are former All Blacks - scrumhalf Graeme Bachop, No 8 eight Jamie Joseph and lock forward Rob Gordon.

We hear that the Japanese media are now referring to their beloved Cherry Blossoms as the 'Cherry Blacks'.

Kirwan is also a member of the foreign legion plying its trade in Japan. He plays rugby for NEC and this is his third season. By next year, he should be qualified to play for Japan under the IRB's three-year residency rule. But it is doubtful he will wear the red-and-white strip if we are to go on what he said at the Long Lunch.

Kirwan, who won 63 caps for New Zealand, said that whichever country won the World Cup, a Kiwi would be some part of the team, players or management.

'We should allow countries some leeway this time. But I hope in the future that this sort of thing will not happen,' said Kirwan.

The irrepressible Handy pointed out that someone once said that when Kirwan was playing in the All Blacks backline, that he was the 'only All White in it'.

Jokes aside, this entire topic of flying flags of convenience and the movement of players is a contentious issue, and one that readily strikes a chord within Hong Kong, too.

We have gone through all of this.

In fact, we still field 'expatriates' in the team. Most of them have made Hong Kong their home.

All fall within the IRB laws and no rules are bent. But is this the true Hong Kong? Kirwan will answer no.

Closer to home, Chan Wai-ping, the DeA scrumhalf, said recently when interviewed by this writer that: 'We Chinese feel that a Hong Kong team should have Chinese players in it . . . otherwise how can we support it?' Across in Japan, one of the country's most respected rugby writers, Hiroshi Yoshida, is convinced the quality of the Japanese players has improved since the last World Cup, but feels the presence of the foreigners could detract from this.

'As a rugby nation, Japan have grown up, but if Japan win a game in Wales, the media will write only about the Cherry Blacks and not about how the Japanese players have improved. It's dangerous,' he said.

Meanwhile, the last word goes to Handy. He joked: 'The Welsh thought they were getting two players when they targeted Jason Jones-Hughes.'



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