The Half-Cut Chat About Half-Backs

Day 12 cntd (5th September 2009)

The Star (South Harrow) 2 x bt Corona, ½ Becks, 2 x ½ London Pride £10.17

Jim, Phil, JW and Shirt at "The STA"

“I need to stop drinking bottles” I observed at the bar of The Star “Cos it’s too bloody expensive”

“Well, are you gonna drink this one, or will you just knock it all over the bar again?” Replied Shirt. Touché.

Welcome to South Harrow, a place that is, according to one disgruntled and slightly damaged reviewer on “Turning into a khazi of disease ridden slags and heathens”

Well I think we have to disagree.  Whilst the pub and the area around it were hardly reminiscent of Mayfair, it was certainly nicer than some of the places we’d been to on the tour so far.  The Star itself was jumping at the time we arrived, preparing to rock out to whatever band was due to come on at about 9.30. Actually, truth be told it was a little bit Chavtastic, but at least it was in a cheerful way.

The folk behind the bar were happy and helpful, and the beer was ok if not amazing, there was a pool table in one corner, but most interestingly they had a Kiefer Sutherland “24” Pinball machine, plus one of those multi-game quiz machines that just happened to be housed in an old red telephone box in the corner of the room. Excellent work. They also had plenty of outside space for the summer – some of it just benches down the side of the building, but some of it a bit more formal with some big old heated parasol providing a bit of cover.

We moved on (because the end was almost in sight now), pausing only to have the usual photo done outside. Unfortunately the pub sign was missing a vital letter, and so we were forced to pose in front of “The STA”, which I have to admit I always thought was the Student Travel Association. Perhaps it was their new headquarters.

The Village Inn (Rayners Lane) 1 x bt Corona, ½ Kronenbourg, ½ Jaipur IPA, 2 x ½ Ponting’s Pain £6.20

The Village Inn: KL, JW and Jim Contemplate Another Wetherspoons

The next round was a bit more sensibly priced, although from the price and the outlandishly named ales we had, you can probably guess that we had stumbled on a JD Wetherspoons – this one just a short distance down the hill from Rayners Lane station

JDW was continuing to change my opinion of them when it came to the quality of their beers – another well kept set of ales from a mixture of mainstream and small brewers.  Ponting’s Pain struck a particular chord of course, especially with Shirt who is an enthusiastic member of the Barmy Army. The blurb on the pump clip went as follows:

“Well done Andrew Strauss and the boys, faaaaaaantastic cricket!” Well done to Welton’s brewery to be fair, because this was no more than two weeks after the Ashes series had finished. And let’s face it, they’re probably going to have to rename the beer if it’s still around in 2011, but hey, let’s milk it while we still can.

No Stannah stair lift in this one, but otherwise this place was typically Wetherspoons – wood panelling everywhere, TVs on but with no sound, and food options ranging from “Grills at £6.50 to “Curry at £4.99”. It was actually towards the top end of the Wetherspoons quality scale, although Jim did mention that he detected a rather pungent odour on the way in which he could only describe as “Vomit mixed with several different types of BO”. 

“It’s definitely better than the Cross Keys in St Albans” observed Shirt, and Jim was forced to agree.

“If that’s the benchmark we’re going for, then yes, it’s way above that” he conceded (although in honesty that isn’t really saying much – it’s a bit like saying that in power lifting terms Lindsay Lohan is way better than Paris Hilton).

We gave one final salute to the barman before we left, but that was mainly because he had accidentally poured an extra pint of Ponting’s Pain, which meant that the boys got to share it out between us and raise another metaphorical two fingers to the vanquished Australian Captain.  Noble loser though he may appear to be, he was still a loser at this point, and I still maintain that he looks a bit like George W Bush’s younger, stupider brother.  Sorry Ricky.

INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 16 – Who Are The Top Ten Rugby Union Half-Backs of The Professional Era?

Considering the company we had been keeping today, we were always going to shift away from cricket and keep talking about rugby.  Indeed such was the enthusiasm we had had from Dunny and Shirt earlier on in the day, it was all we could do to keep up with them as they intensely probed the depths of the game’s recent history (or some would say rambled on incessantly), which led us to use up somewhere in the region of 80 minutes (appropriately) of tape to record all the pearls of wisdom that were being uttered.

Clearly just covering the fat boys up front was not going to be enough, and having previously solicited ideas from other opinionated friends, we decided we should complete the XV, and define who we believed to be the greatest half backs of the professional era.

Fly- and Scrum-Half. The General and his Lieutenant. The two men that pull the strings, that form the vital link between the tubby forwards and the girly backs. The Organ Grinder and his monkey, if you will.

The rules, of course, were the same as before – the majority of play must have come in the professional era, and the better they had done in World Cup Competitions/Lions Tours, the more likely they were to receive consideration.

After Shirt had put forward his favourites (i.e. top ten Englishmen) and Dunny had responded with his favourites (i.e. top ten Welshmen) we conceded that there were other countries that had produced some pretty decent half backs as well – even Australia.

There were some strong early contender’s that were immediately discounted – Michael Lynagh and Nick Farr-Jones for being in the game just a bit too early for professionalism; Freddie Michalak for being far more successful as a gay icon (along with his mate Poitrenaud) than as an  international Fly-Half; any English scrum half since Dawson for totally failing to emerge from the shadow of “Mr Strictly Come Question of Masterchef”; and, sadly, Gareth Edwards, despite impassioned pleas that because he was “the best ever” he could have been at the top of the professional era. That would be stretching the timelines a little too much chaps.

Scrum Half – The Top Five:

George Gregan (Aus) – we all hate the little bastard of course, but we can’t discount the records he has set.

Matt Dawson (Eng) – the Welsh members of the team hated him, unsurprisingly, but me and Shirt listed his achievements, and even pretended we liked him as a person. Although not the constant TV bothering publicity-whore he’s now turned into, of course.

Fabien Galthie (Fra) – because he’s France’s greatest half back, and the only Frenchman that made it anywhere near this list.

Joost Van Der Westhuizen (SA) – A total arse, but hard as nails and seriously good: the scrum-half with the highest number of tries in history.

Justin Marshall (NZ) – because he’s the All Blacks highest capped Scrum-Half, because he scored 24 international tries, because he turned up at Saracens last year, and because he still believes that a badly highlighted mullet looks good on TV.

In the mix

Peter Stringer (Ire); Mike Phillips (Wal) – best in the world at the moment; Duane Peel (Wal) – best in the world for about 9 months before injuries and Mike Phillips intervened; Rob Howley (Wal) – there’s a lot of Welsh in this list, surprisingly; Alessandro Troncon (Ita) – over 100 caps and one of Italy’s only truly world class players; Mike Blair (Sco); Chris Cussiter (Sco); Byron Kelleher (NZ); and August Pichot (Arg)

Fly Half – The Top Five:

Jonny Wilkinson (Eng) – I would not be swayed on this. I don’t care about recent form; he is still the World Record international points scorer and won us the World Cup in 2003 with one swing of his magic boot. Remember Jonny, someone out here still loves you….

Dan Carter (NZ) – Because he’s just too bloody good. We’re getting bored of the ladies swooning over him though.

Neil Jenkins (Wal) – Apparently gets in on three counts: 1. He played for Wales until 2003, scoring over 1000 points, 2. He scored the match winning conversion in 1999 against England (after Fatty Gibbs’ try) that denied them the 6 Nations Championship, and 3. His Doppelganger is Keith Lewis.

Stephen Larkham (Aus) – because he seemed to be around forever, because he was really strong despite weighing the same as a malnourished dingo, and because he played on in 2003 despite having most of his teeth put through his lip in a tackle.

Stephen Jones (Wal) – because he is Mr Consistency, and because there were two Welshman with us on the day and they shouted loudest.

In the mix

Gregor Townsend (Sco) – despite being called “mercurial”, which is usually another word for “inconsistent”; Ronan O’Gara (Ire) – although not to be played in the same side as Peter Stringer if possible; Carlos Spencer (NZ) – for the crazy hair and the crazier attitude; Matt Giteau (Aus); Andrew Mehrtens (NZ) – probably should be in the top five; Felipe Contepomi (Arg); Diego Dominguez (ITA – even though he started out Argentinean), Jannie De Beer (SA) – wanted by the Welsh boys for kicking 5 drop goals against England in 1995, vetoed by me for only playing 13 tests; Christophe Lamaison (Fra) – considered for destroying NZ in the 1999 World Cup, but vetoed for playing most of his career at centre).

Random quotes from the conversation:

Dunny – “It’s got to be Neill. Don’t forget he scored all those record points behind the shittest pack in the world!”

JW – “To all you naysayers out there, just leave him alone. He is still the World Record Points scorer despite having at least 6 ½ years worth of injuries throughout his career!”

KL – “Mike Phillips. For his height, speed, strength, and his willingness to punch people he doesn’t like.”

Shirt – “Or people he does like!”

Dunny – “Or people he doesn’t know!”

JW – “Can I make a case for Charlie Hodgson?”

Everyone – “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

Dunny – “Come on, who was the Argentinean scrum half?”

Shirt – “Pichot”

Dunny – “Pinochet? Fantastic! Put Patricio Noriega in with him – we could build a Dictator’s XV! Margaret Thatcher could go in as hooker!”

KL – “Surely Eva Peron should be hooker…”


4 responses to “The Half-Cut Chat About Half-Backs

  1. Agree with all almost!!but Rob Howley widely recognised as a good scrum half, and excellent coach, by McGeechan no less, won a heineken cup, played behind a weak pack, would have played ahead of daws for the lions, ran 400m for wales at age group, and was successfull in both premiership and welsh leagues. great pass and quick, his box kicking was awesome. Gets my vote.
    Similarly Mehrtens! First of the new breed of attacking fly halfs, always on the gain line, not only scored points, but made others in an admittedly very talented back line score through his excellent pass of both hands. 5 of the top twenty try scorers in international rugby union scored their tries on his watch. Much as I love Johnny. Mehrtens set the standard. Another point for consideration is that Neil scored more tries than JW and AM at 11, but Dan Carter has a phenominal 25. Proper fly half.
    ps. If only Gav wore 10!!!!!!!

  2. Having stunned you with the facts, i am now going to put the welsh hat on and suggest that Jiffy Davies gets an honourable mention. Played all of his rugby for wales as an amateur, but came back to the proffesional game, having played league as a full GB intwrnational and been voted man of steel, played in OZ and was one of the few to be brilliant at both cofes as a fly half( also wore shockingly tight shorts). Did play for Cardiff as a pro but cut short career after wife died. Worth a mention!!!

  3. Thank you for those considered comments Bruv. Not as opinionated as usual and with only a mild Welsh bias!

  4. As for wingers, surely Stalin and Hitler are pretty extreme Right and Left wingers.

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