Friday, March 7, 2008

All Pakistan National Rugby Championship

17th All Pakistan National Rugby Championship will be played at the DHA ground here on Sunday, a spokesman for the Pakistan Rugby Union said on Thursday. “The championship will be played on a 7-a-side format. The event will be participated by the departments, provinces and educational institutions,” added the spokesman. The 16 teams have been divided into 4 pools.

Punjab A and Pakistan Army, the last year’s winners and runners-up respectively, are the favourites with the teams from Islamabad, Pakistan Police and Central Punjab being capable of springing some upsets. “This will be a full day event, the first game will kick-off at 10:00 am, a total of 24 pool matches will be played on a round robin basis and the top 4 teams going into the knock-out phase (semi-finals) for the eventual winners,” the spokesman said.

Shepherd's son who made rugby history

JIM Telfer lost more Calcutta Cup matches than he won, both as a hard, roving flanker and as a demanding coach, but when he savoured victories over the "Auld Enemy" they were so great as to douse the entire nation in an exhilarating cocktail of invigorating spirit.
The most memorable moments in Scottish rugby's recent past remain the Grand Slam wins of 1984 and 1990, when, bizarrely, the winning match each time was played on 17 March, the day of Telfer's birthday. On the first occasion he was the head coach, who steered a team featuring John Rutherford, Roy Laidlaw, Jim Aitken and David Leslie to Scotland's first clean sweep of the then Five Nations Championship in 59 years.

He was assistant to Ian McGeechan when a David Sole-captained side repeated the feat by beating England six years later, a senior delegation of players having persuaded him to don the tracksuit again. On the only other occasion since the 1920s that Scotland won the full championship, in 1999, Telfer was again head coach.

The shepherd's son who started life high in the Cheviot Hills , just a mile or so from the English border, went on to play for and coach Melrose, Scotland and the British and Irish Lions. He remains the only person to have played for Scotland against the "big three" southern hemisphere nations – South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – and not lost. He retired in 2003 after ten years as the Scottish Rugby Union's first Director of Rugby.

How hopeful are you of a Scotland win this weekend?

The results so far have not been encouraging, but when you play England it's a one-off. We had not won a game when we played England at the end of the 2000 championship, and we beat them.

Results so far don't reflect how good we could be, and England have not struck the right balance yet, so hope springs eternal.

How important is rugby to Scotland?

Soccer is the national sport and gets a huge following from the media; far too much in terms of how well we perform. But when Scotland are doing well in rugby the whole country is ignited, and it creates a good feeling among everyone; it lifts us and makes us visibly proud to be Scottish.

It's like when Andy Murray does well or Chris Hoy wins gold and flies the Saltire. When rugby does well it is talked about across Scotland, and it is also a greater game for Scottish communities than many realise.

Rugby is not confined to private schools, but played in great, small communities like Alloway, Musselburgh, Lasswade, Melrose and Ellon – just some examples. These are community towns where rugby clubhouses engender a unique, binding social aspect that you don't get with soccer and it would help Scottish society, in my opinion, if we had more of them.

How did your upbringing shape your rugby career and wider philosophy on life?

My upbringing was one where there were no privileges; you had to work for everything you got. I was not born into a family with money, so I had to earn everything.

I took that into my rugby, and teaching probably, in the way I would choose to develop someone no matter what his background was; he was judged by me only on his ability and his attitude. I would always try to encourage the trier; maybe not the most talented, but the one who showed commitment and worked as hard as he could to improve himself.

I came from a non-rugby family, so I had to start from scratch and I've never had much time for people who think they're better than they are, either in rugby or education or in life. The players who always had excuses for not training could disappear as far as I was concerned.

You helped Scotland compete with and defeat some of the leading nations in world rugby. Scotland are currently ranked 10th in the world. Are we much worse now than in the past?

No, we are not much worse. It is more difficult for Scotland to win now than before, with professionalism having improved the leading nations, those who have ten times the number of players we have.

But while we may not have the so-called "stars" of Hastings, Andy Irvine or Jim Renwick, players like Mike Blair, Simon Taylor and Jason White have done great things for Scotland and are as good as any players of the past. The likes of John Barclay, Ross Rennie and Nick De Luca are also great talents of the future.

It is inevitable in a small country that we'll have difficult periods, and others such as 1986, when we had great experienced players merging with an exciting new generation and we beat England 33-6 – Scotland's best Calcutta Cup performance ever, I think.

We lack depth in certain positions, like prop, but what we need right now is confidence because when you look at the quality of back rows, second rows, scrum-halves and back three players we have, we could be a very competitive team.

Can Scottish rugby ever break out of its traditional Borders and independent school territories?

I worked for the SRU for ten years before I retired and we made big inroads into areas that hadn't seen rugby before, particularly disadvantaged parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

That work is ongoing, though it does not get reported much, and I think we're doing a remarkably good job of spreading rugby throughout the country. But there are two problems.

The first is the lack of resources and facilities. After spending six weeks introducing children in Easterhouse to rugby, and seeing real enjoyment, eyes being opened, there was nowhere for the youngsters to go and play rugby within walking distance. There were so few rugby clubs around, and if they found one they would feel uncomfortable because it was some way from their home. And rugby isn't a game you can play as easily as football, where all you need is a ball, waste ground and jackets for posts; it relies on more equipment and parental help.

The second thing is the incredible lack of knowledge of what rugby is about, especially among football and so-called "sports" commentators, who are completely ignorant and dismissive of rugby as a middle-class sport. That might be the case in some areas, but in many places it's just a local, community sport.

Personally, though the SRU's work should be praised, and will help continue and strengthen current rugby communities, some of whom are struggling to keep going, I don't think there will be much difference to the numbers playing the game in 20 years' time … unless rugby changed to a summer sport for youngsters and the amateur clubs.

That has the potential to revolutionise rugby, but we're too scared in Scotland of major change. Most if not all of our rugby players don't reach their potential in Scotland because of the weather and lack of opportunity to develop week on week; we don't maximise the talent we have. A change to the better weather would be huge.

How much of a role could the government play, and has the SNP made any noticeable change?

The government could play a huge role. I don't think the government has to give all that much more money to be honest, but where they can make a huge difference to Scottish sport is in making the sporting facilities better across the country.

I coach youngsters through the winter and the weather makes it hard to improve skills and develop enthusiasm. If the government committed itself to a proper facilities strategy, with indoor facilities and more 3G or 4G all-weather multi-sport pitches, we would see a major improvement across Scottish sport.

Is Scotland really a sporting nation?

In individual sports, yes, from sailing to cycling, bowling to skiing and snowboarding, which we don't hear so much of in a soccer-obsessed media, but we're not as committed to sport as some countries, and as some people like to think.

Let's face it, we're not very good at football, yet that dominates the tabloids and skews the picture of sport in Scotland.

Could the London Olympics in 2012 and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 leave a lasting legacy for Scottish sport?

I think it's great to have the Olympics in the UK, although it is a phoney event now compared to what it set out to be. There is all sorts of cheating going on, which everybody knows, but few are brave enough to speak about, so it's not conducted in the same spirit it was in the early 20th century.

But it has this magic because it only happens once every four years, and being world champion in athletics isn't, it seems, as important as being Olympic champion, so it carries a lot of currency. It also attracts great interest and influences people inside and outside of sport so, yes, it can be very positive for the UK.

Scotland is not particularly athletic as a whole; we're better at sports where we don't have to run far or very quick. But the Commonwealth Games will be great for Scotland providing it is not allowed to become an exclusively Glasgow event, which is my problem with the SNP. They are no better than the last government in terms of concentrating on the Central Belt, where they get most votes, to the detriment of the south and north.

So do the SNP and their campaign for independence not seem attractive to a Scottish socialist?

I see myself as a patriot and socialist, but I vote Labour and not SNP because I don't agree with their policies, particularly their anti-nuclear, or anti-war policy. Nobody wants war, but we need strong leadership to counteract tyrants.

If the SNP become a dominant power we'll have a problem because the party simply brings together people with a desire to become independent, but if we got independence, I think people would then vote down the traditional lines of socialist, liberal or conservative politics and the SNP would have no use.

I have become less left-wing in recent years because I see the value in some areas of private enterprise and believe in a mixed economy, but I am still left-of-centre and believe in social justice, strong leadership, rewarding people who work hard in life, equal opportunities and the minimum wage, for instance. If we were a one-party state I'd be in prison before I voted Conservative, but that's just me.

Rugby having been at the centre of your life for more than 50 years, are you able to escape the sport in retirement?

Yes. It took me a while to get used to retirement, and days that didn't start at 6am and finish at midnight, but I disappeared from rugby for two years and it's now creeping back in.

My wife Frances and I enjoy travelling. We were in New Zealand at this time last year, and we're going to Las Vegas, Washington and Orlando this year. I've always been fascinated by America and I would like to go to China and India.

I am also going to Spanish classes at the Borders College in Peebles. I believe you have to keep your mind active; keep challenging yourself. I'm not in the gym so much now after a heart operation nearly three years ago, but I do a lot of gardening, and walk my Labrador three times a day.

Have you caught up with electronic age – do you own an iPod?

An eye what? I have a mobile phone and a computer, just, but hardly use them. My grandson Kenneth shows me, but if he can do it why should I interfere?

If you had a magic wand, what would you want for Scottish rugby over the next decade?

I would just like to see all levels thriving and being reasonably successful. We'll never be world-beaters, and the only time I've ever been really disheartened was during the political fighting in 2005, which, thankfully, is behind us now, so I'd want to see Scotland winning three or four Six Nations games each year, Glasgow and Edinburgh reaching the quarter-finals of the European Cup and clubs thriving and continuing to produce real rugby talent.

I worry about having professional rugby contained in our two biggest cities, and would want to see rugby spread so that youngster
s as far afield as Wick, Aberdeen, Dundee, Kelso and Dumfries have the same opportunities to enjoy rugby, be the best they can be and help Scotland be the best it can be.

What has been your most rewarding achievement?

I don't judge my life on achievements; I tend to judge it on what I am doing at the present time.

I was very happy teaching in Glasgow and the Lothians, and when I was headteacher at Hawick High School and took great satisfaction in seeing pupils achieve, whether it was passing an exam they didn't think they could, going to college or university, doing well in sport, or simply growing into a happy and confident adult.

But this week my "'reward" will be seeing Melrose Wasps beat Forrester in the youth cup and/or the Borders U16s beat Newcastle Falcons on Sunday … and Scotland beat England, of course.