One of the ironies of living long enough to reach one’s sixties is that the very fact tends to play havoc with both collective and personal memories, not least because inevitably the technology by which historical events were recorded define their brief moment in time.
In sport, for example, privileged as we shall be to watch live 32-camera (instantly recorded from multi-angles) coverage of every one of the 2019 Rugby World Cup’s matches, somehow it is possible to trick ourselves into comparing what we shall see over the next six weeks or so with our memories of the great contests from the past ‘side-by-side’.
Only it’s not quite like that, is it?
Recently I was reviewing some of the still-available video footage of the inaugural (1987) Rugby World Cup hosted in New Zealand, ending with the William Webb Ellis trophy being lifted by the hosts’ 27-year old scrum half and captain David Kirk after a 29-9 victory over France.
Before doing so I retained slightly hazy but still fond and vivid images of snatches of that that tournament and indeed its All Blacks squad which included such greats as flanker Michael Jones, hooker Sean Fitzpatrick, fly half Grant Fox and wing threequarter John Kirwan.
However – my point is – those dragged-back memories of mine bore little resemblance to the now-grainy and rather basic television coverage that passed for ‘state of the art’ in the late 1980s.
Worse, watching rugby union play of that period today never loses it capacity to shock for no other reason that the rules, tactics, fitness and even size of the players back then – despite at the time seeming close to the limit of what was evolutionarily possible or practical on the rugby field – now seem so primitive and unimpressive.
I need call in evidence nothing more that the statistics of David Kirk’s own physique – five feet eight and eleven and a half stone wringing wet.
In boxing, whether one peaks back at what moving archive footage is available of (for example) Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Emile Griffiths or Tommy Hearns [readers may add their own favourites here], even though the weight categories remain broadly unaltered, the fitness levels and tactics of yester-yore now seem positively pedestrian to modern eyes – if at my age I’m entitled to call mine that!
No doubt one could say this about football, track and field, golf … indeed any sport and (come to that) any aspect of human existence.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, the great sportsmen and women of any era remain ‘of their time’.
Earlier this week, over a hastily-arranged lunch, a select group of senior Rust staffers discussed this and other rugby matters with former All Black lock ‘Granite’ Grant Logan (23 appearances, 8 Test caps) who was on a short stop-over in London as part of a Kiwi touring group on their way to Japan.
The news media and foodstuffs tycoon, still looking alarmingly-fit, candid and open in his views, agreed with my thesis.
Over a couple of hours we covered many subjects in a fascinating discussion – including the prospects for the RWC, the future of the world game, concussion, player welfare and the benefits – or not – of video replay technology (“Happy it wasn’t around in my day!”).
I’m not going to pre-empt or spoil things by Logan’s predictions or comments here in detail – I’ll leave Rusters to read his dispatches from Japan in due course as they arrive – but it was interesting that he agreed that this year’s tournament is probably the most open ever: “Any team that makes the quarters has a chance – that’s the beauty of rugby, on any given day anything can happen …”
I wasn’t so sure he wasn’t just being polite – the weight of expectation back in New Zealand always has both its positive and negative aspects. Then again, often when talking to any Kiwi about rugby one gains the impression that the burden of their illustrious history sits lightly on their shoulders.
I wouldn’t call it arrogance – well, not to a former All Black’s face, I wouldn’t!