Alastair Hignell knows more than most that memories are precious | Six Nations


The Six Nations approaches and, with it, the annual rip tide of memories. Can it actually be 50 years in the past this weekend, for instance, since Wales beat Scotland at Murrayfield courtesy of “the best conversion since St Paul” by a bushy haired, bearded John Taylor? Or 45 years since JPR Williams’s old-school shoulder charge on the French wing Jean-François Gourdon that helped yield one other Welsh grand slam? Unforgettable moments.

They are additionally the muse stones upon which at present’s match rests. It might probably generally be simpler to recollect Taylor’s best hour – the highlights of that 1971 sport are as evocative because the flanker’s uncanny likeness to Roy Wooden out of Wizzard – or JPR’s intervention than the finer factors (there weren’t many) of England’s final sport in opposition to Wales. On this locked-down sporting world, that well-known previous reside album of Max Boyce’s – “I do know ‘Cos – I used to be there!” – feels even more nostalgic.

Not everybody, sadly, can recall every little thing as if it had been yesterday. As anybody who has a member of the family with dementia will know, even as soon as vivid psychological snapshots can fade to gray. It’s a merciless situation acquainted to the ex-England rugby worldwide and Gloucestershire cricketer Alastair Hignell, whose father, Tony, suffered from dementia till his dying, aged 87, in 2015. Tony Hignell was additionally a champion sportsman who threw the javelin for Britain, performed first-class cricket and liked watching his boy symbolize his nation. Regularly his son noticed all of it slip away: “By the top he knew he was eager on sport however he couldn’t fairly bear in mind why.”

Which is why “Higgy”, nonetheless an inspiration to so many due to his personal indefatigable 22-year combat with a number of sclerosis and, now, MDS (a uncommon type of blood most cancers), is doing his utmost to help the Sporting Memories Foundation, who are eager for a spread of individuals to share a sporting reminiscence that would possibly simply jog somebody’s creativeness. It’s a beautiful concept that, because the Hignell household can attest, is usually vastly helpful. “From my Dad’s expertise it was the factor that lit him up often. As his reminiscence declined, sport was the factor that actually introduced him again. Simply contributing a reminiscence can achieve this a lot good for thus many individuals.”

That prompts the query: which one Six Nations reminiscence stands out for you? Perhaps a primary sport watched at an impressionable age, which was the case for this correspondent. Not everybody will recall Eire beating England 26-21 at Twickenham in 1974 however to a nine-year-old nation boy it left an indelible mark, from the scent of tweed and tobacco within the air to the nice Mike Gibson’s timeless genius.

Finally, although, it’s the ebb and circulate of nationwide fortunes that at all times makes the championship so charming. In 1977, as this season, England kicked off their marketing campaign at dwelling to Scotland earlier than internet hosting a crunch sport in opposition to a fancied France a number of weeks later. Hignell performed at full-back on each events and the Calcutta Cup sport went very effectively. England racked up their then-biggest profitable margin over Scotland with a 26-6 victory and their No 15, profitable his sixth cap, contributed 10 factors.

Earlier than the French encounter, a photographer popped as much as Cambridge, the place Hignell was learning, and took a basic photograph of the all-round sportsman on the enjoying fields of Fitzwilliam Faculty, dressed half in his rugby equipment – England socks, shorts and ball – and half in his cricket gear. Alas, each schoolboy’s final dream turned nightmarish: the most multi-skilled English sportsman of his day missed a number of kicks at purpose and an illustrious France staff squeezed dwelling 4-3 en path to an historic grand slam.

“I assumed I had fairly an excellent sport, other than the small truth of lacking 5 kicks out of six,” says Hignell, wryly. “It was the primary yr France had ever received the grand slam and so they solely used 15 gamers. In 2017, a French journalist got here spherical to interview me. When the piece appeared it was all about the way it wouldn’t have occurred with out me. The headline was ‘The sixteenth man of the French XV!’”

Taking part in for England in these days, although, was an expertise that would horrify at present’s goal-kickers. “Within the mid-Seventies it at all times appeared to be raining at Twickenham, the wind was at all times swirling round and the grass was over your ankles. You practised with any previous ball after which performed with a shiny, gentle brown leather-based one. It was so new it was slippery to the touch. You didn’t see it till simply earlier than the sport when the captains would press it with their thumbs to gauge if it was pumped up sufficient.

Alastair Hignell lines up a kick during the match between England and Wales in 1978. Twickenham was a tricky venue for place-kickers in those days.
Alastair Hignell strains up a kick through the match between England and Wales in 1978. Twickenham was a tough venue for place-kickers in these days. {Photograph}: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

“Typically the primary time you kicked it you’d realise it was fully mushy. There was nothing scientific about it: Purpose-kickers practising earlier than kick-off wasn’t even conceived of.”

Gamers, moreover, might solely collect on the Thursday earlier than and Friday’s precedence was to park a automobile in central London to make sure a swift getaway on Sunday morning after the official post-match dinner. On Friday nights, as Hignell remembers, the squad could be pushed into city to absorb a present. “It was across the time of the musical Hair and the Age of Aquarius. We noticed one thing referred to as Let My Folks Come which, so far as I can bear in mind, was stuffed with bare individuals. It didn’t appear best preparation for taking part in rugby the subsequent day.

“We additionally went to see the Black and White Minstrel Present, which somebody should have thought to be good healthful leisure.”

The squad’s vitamin and dietary recommendation was equally suspect. “Nobody knew something about it. On the day of the sport you possibly can select no matter you wished for lunch. The forwards would at all times have a grimy large steak – with chips in fact. Bristol’s Dave Rollitt would order uncooked egg and sherry. You wouldn’t drink an excessive amount of water. That might swill round inside your tummy, wouldn’t it?”

Memories, memories. Right here’s hoping they create a flicker of distant recognition to somebody, someplace.

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The opposite half

Spare a thought, because the 2021 Six Nations extravaganza kicks off, for many who are at the moment much less lucky. Covid-19 has curtailed any variety of hopes and goals however its impact on the second-tier Championship might but show completely ruinous. For various sides there is no such thing as a real looking prospect of beginning the season due to the monetary burden of Covid testing – one membership, Ampthill, say the associated fee shall be £120,000 – and the coverage of providing loans and never grants to golf equipment who, with none video games or crowds, have had no supply of revenue since final March.

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Central revenue from the RFU and Premiership Rugby has additionally been slashed by 75%. Those that reckon a terminally weakened Championship could be no large deal are ignoring the numerous worldwide gamers, previous and current, for whom it has been an important stepping stone. It will likely be a scandal if these in real want are left to wither and die as a result of nobody in authority absolutely understood their worth to their native communities and the English sport.

One to look at

One man will finally decide how shut Scotland come to wrongfooting England at Twickenham on Saturday. If Finn Russell enjoys sufficiently fast ball and just a little time and house there may be each risk of a crackling contest to light up a probably chilly, dank night. The Scotland No 10 additionally has the prospect to point out the British & Irish Lions coach, Warren Gatland, what he would possibly supply in a pink jersey, wherever and every time that tour takes place.

A quick begin from Russell and, even with no spectators, a rip-roaring first Six Nations weekend is assured.