Tuesday, October 26

Alastair Hignell Knows More Than Most That Memories Are Precious | Six nations

TThe Six Nations is coming and, with it, the annual tide of memories. Could it really be 50 years ago this weekend, for example, since Wales beat Scotland at Murrayfield courtesy of “the greatest conversion since St. Paul” by a bushy-haired, bearded John Taylor? Or 45 years from The old school shoulder charge of JPR Williams On French wing Jean-François Gourdon who helped produce another Welsh grand slam? Unforgettable moments.

They are also the foundation on which today’s tournament rests. Sometimes it can be easier to remember Taylor’s finest hour – the highlights of that 1971 game are as evocative as the wing’s uncanny resemblance to Wizzard’s Roy Wood, or JPR’s intervention than the finer points (there was no many) from the last England game. against Wales. In this closed sports world, that famous old Max Boyce live album: “I know because, I was there!” – feels even more nostalgic.

Not everyone, unfortunately, can remember everything as if it were yesterday. As anyone with a family member with dementia will know, even once, vivid mental snapshots can turn gray. It’s a cruel scenario familiar to former England rugby international and Gloucestershire cricketer Alastair Hignell, whose father, Tony, suffered from dementia until his death at age 87 in 2015. Tony Hignell was also a champion athlete who pitched javelin for Great Britain, he played first-class cricket and loved watching his son represent his country. Little by little, his son saw that everything was slipping away: “In the end, I knew he liked sports, but he didn’t quite remember why.”

That is why “Higgy”, who continues to be an inspiration to many thanks to his own 22-year tireless fight against multiple sclerosis and now MDS (a rare form of blood cancer), is doing his best to help the Sporting Memories Foundation, who are interested in having a variety of people share a sports memory that could stimulate someone’s imagination. It’s a lovely idea that, as the Hignell family can attest, is often enormously beneficial. “In my dad’s experience, it was what illuminated him from time to time. As his memory waned, it was the sport that really brought him back. Just bringing a memory can do a lot of good for a lot of people. “

That begs the question: which Six Nations memory stands out for you? Perhaps a first game seen at an impressionable age, as was the case with this correspondent. Not everyone will remember that Ireland beat England 26-21 at Twickenham in 1974, but for a nine-year-old country boy he left an indelible mark, from the smell of tweed and tobacco in the air to the timeless genius of the great Mike Gibson. .

Ultimately, though, it’s the ebb and flow of national fortunes that always makes the championship so captivating. In 1977, like this season, England began their campaign at home to Scotland before hosting a decisive match against an imaginary France a few weeks later. Hignell played winger both times and the Calcutta Cup match went very well. England racked up their highest margin of victory over Scotland with a 26-6 victory and their 15th, winning their sixth international match, contributed 10 points.

Before the French match, a photographer arrived in Cambridge, where Hignell was studying, and took a classic photo of the athlete on the playing fields of Fitzwilliam College, half dressed in his rugby uniform: socks, shorts and England ball. and half on his cricket team. Unfortunately, every schoolboy’s last dream turned into a nightmare: the most versatile English sportsman of his time missed a series of shots on target and an illustrious team from France crashed 4-3 at home en route to a historic grand slam .

“I thought he had a good game, aside from the little fact that he missed five out of six shots,” Hignell says wryly. “It was the first year France won a grand slam and they only used 15 players. In 2017, a French journalist came to interview me. When the piece came out, it was about how it wouldn’t have happened without me. The headline was ‘The Sixteenth Man of the French XV!’ “

However, playing for England in those days was an experience that would horrify today’s kickers. “In the mid-1970s, it always seemed to be raining in Twickenham, the wind was always swirling and the grass covered the ankles. You practiced with any old ball and then played with a shiny tan leather one. It was so new that it was slippery to the touch. You didn’t see him until just before the game, when the captains pressed their thumbs on him to gauge if he was upbeat enough.

Alastair Hignell lines up a kick during the 1978 England-Wales game. Twickenham was a tough place for place-kickers in those days.
Alastair Hignell lines up a kick during the 1978 England-Wales game. Twickenham was a tough place for place-kickers in those days. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe / The Guardian

“Sometimes the first time you kick it, you find that it’s completely soft. There was nothing scientific about it: kickers who practiced before kick-off were not even conceived. “

Furthermore, players could only meet the Thursday before and the priority on Friday was to park a car in central London to ensure a quick getaway on Sunday morning after the official post-match dinner. On Friday nights, as Hignell recalls, the team was driven into town for a show. “It was around the time of the musical Hair and the Age of Aquarius. We saw something called Let My People Come that, as far as I remember, was full of naked people. It didn’t seem like an ideal preparation for playing rugby the next day.

“We also went to see the black and white minstrel show, which someone must have considered good entertainment.”

The team’s nutritional and dietary advice was equally suspect. “Nobody knew anything about it. On game day you could choose whatever you wanted for lunch. The forwards would always have a big dirty steak, with fries, of course. Dave Rollitt from Bristol would order raw egg and sherry. You wouldn’t drink too much water. That would spill into your belly, right?

Memories Memories. We hope they bring a distant flash of recognition to someone, somewhere.

• For more information on the Sporting Memories Foundation, visit www.thesmf.co.uk.

The other half

Leave a thought, as the 2021 Six Nations Extravaganza begins, for those who are currently less fortunate. Covid-19 has dampened many hopes and dreams, but its effect on the second tier Championship can still turn out to be utterly ruinous. For several teams there is no realistic prospect of starting the season due to the financial burden of testing from Covid (one club, Ampthill, says the cost will be £ 120,000) and the policy of offering loans and not grants to clubs that, without any games or crowd, they haven’t had a source of income since last March.

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RFU and Premiership Rugby core revenue has also dropped by 75%. Those who consider that a terminally weakened Championship would be no big deal ignore the many international players, past and present, for whom it has been a vital springboard. It would be a scandal if those who really needed it wilted and died because no one in authority fully understood its value to their local communities and the English game.

One to look at

Ultimately, one man will determine how close Scotland will come to beating England at Twickenham on Saturday. If Finn Russell enjoys a fast enough ball and a little time and space, there is every chance of roaring competition to light up a potentially cold and wet night. The Scottish number 10 also has a chance to show British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland what he could offer with a red jersey, wherever and whenever the tour takes place.

A fast start from Russell and, even without spectators, a heartbreaking opening Six Nations weekend is guaranteed.


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