Four years ago I started this blog, before we went off to watch the B&I Lions beat Australia. Part of the reason for writing about our travels was because, sadly, we weren’t travelling with Dave Haswell. We’d been friends, and Rotherham supporters, for many years, wandering the countryside, watching them climb the leagues, and come straight back down again! Dave died before that Tour started but, at every game, I could hear his comments in my mind, especially whenever I was hurling abuse at the referee. I did this a lot and will probably do it all over again in New Zealand, unless they learn how to referee a scrum properly.
You see Dave was a referee, and he always had a good word to say about the man in the middle, as he knew how hard it could be. Faced with conniving front row forwards, out and out lunatics and the helpful advice from the supporters of mainly Yorkshire teams in the leagues he worked in, he tried hard to convince us that the man in the middle was usually right. He refereed some of the Rotherham legends, like Bunny and John Dudley, complete with interesting stories about keeping them playing correctly! When he finally hung up his whistle, he kept up his work in rugby, as part of the Reading Schemes in schools for Rotherham, usually accompanied by Louis McGowan, and as a match day announcer.
I know his son, Chris, will be following every game from Japan, with the benefit of the NZ commentary. Wish we could get that in the UK and lose Stuart Barnes! We will discuss the finer points of every game on line, and see if we can agree on the team Gatland should put out. Not much hope of that as he would fill it with English players, and I obviously have a soft spot for the Welsh. Apparently the commentators in NZ were shocked, in the Crusaders game, at the line speed and defensive work done by what looked very much like the Test team. Let’s hope we can continue that next week in Auckland.
Another Rotherham supporter, Josh, is also on board, in spirit, all the way up there in Kazakhstan. As a geographer, he’s envious of our trip for geographical reasons as well as for the rugby, although I’ve yet to figure out the time differences there, to see if he’s able to watch it live.
Back home we’ve left the Scottish supporter we travel to games with these days. Fee is house and cat sitting, with full access to Sky and hopefully enjoying the stocked freezer! I don’t think the Scottish contingent are going to play a huge role in the Tests but I might be wrong. Thanks Fee – makes for a less stressful trip!
So here at Heathrow, we’ve already met up with half a dozen others travelling out today, and arranged to meet a Sheffield Tigers supporter in Rotorua on Friday night for a beer, if the jet lag allows. I know we will make many new friends on our travels, and this time I hope more of them will be from the country we are travelling to! Australia was fun, with some crazy events (I will never forget the Wild Wombat Tour bus out of Melbourne) and, of course, a win. However the people of Oz didn’t seem that fussed about rugby, except at the games. Already I’ve had emails from all the places we are staying, not just confirming arrangements, but discussing the teams, and even celebrating the fact that Billy Vunipola isn’t on the trip! Different attitude already.
We’ve been invited to a rugby club in Wellington, to meet their supporters and discuss the future of rugby, and how you keep the young players in the game. One answer – get rid of Academies! Should be a fun night.
Anyway, our flight is being called – 30 hours is going to be a long trip – and I can’t wait to see what the next 4 weeks will bring.
Dave will be with us, every step of the way, supporting the man in the middle, in his Specsavers jersey! I will try, in his honour, to remember it’s a tough job, before I call the ref names, but if it comes down to a wrong penalty in the last minute, then I think Dave might have to forgive me for yet again abusing the referee. From where we will be sitting (cheap seats) I doubt the ref will hear, but it will make me feel better.
Here’s to a fun Tour, and possibly a Lions win!