Skip to Content

Spectator sport

The world in Union

17 November 2012

9:00 AM

17 November 2012

9:00 AM

Here’s a thing: some years ago Rhodri Davies left Cardiff and emigrated to New Zealand with his young half-Scottish, half-Irish wife Megan. Not long after settling in Auckland Megan gave birth to a son, Jock. Jock was a bright boy, and mad keen on rugby. After university and through the local rugby club he met a Samoan girl, Angela. Not long after they were married Jock’s company posted him to Toulouse. A year later Angela gave birth to Manu, who grew into a strapping rugby genius.

Despite all his rugby success Jock and Angela were keen to give Manu the best education possible and at 13 he was sent to school in England. In his five years at a rugby-playing public school Manu scored more than 200 tries and converted the lot. He was selected for England schoolboys and was so devastating on his debut that all 12 Premiership clubs offered him a contract. The England head coach announced that he would be picking Manu in his squad.

But then… Wales, Scotland and Ireland picked him too (grandparents), New Zealand picked him (nationality of father), Samoa picked him (nationality of mother), France picked him (birth) as well of course as England (residency). Fiji and Tonga put out a joint statement saying that whoever picked him, it would be to the detriment of Pacific Islands rugby.


None of that is true of course, but it might be soon. Nationality eh, what a headache. But does it really matter? We live in a rainbow world after all, where we work and play and put down roots in different countries, making friends and immersing ourselves in separate cultures (even KP). Business doesn’t make a fuss over nationality. If you end up facing your cousin, brother, wife in international competition, then so be it.

Look at Mako Vunipola who played in the scrum for England at Twickenham on Saturday. He was born in New Zealand and his dad Fe’ao was captain of Tonga. Fe’ao moved to Wales where he played for Pontypool. Mako grew up in Wales. Deacon Manu (captain of Fiji) plays in Llanelli for Scarlets and his son would play for Wales if given the choice. The inspirational Welsh flanker Toby Faletau is from Tonga, via Cross Keys and Newport. And in the gruelling weekend battle between Ireland and the Springboks, the battling Strauss cousins were facing each other in the front row. One day the Dublin van der Merwes will exist, and the Nakualofas from Esher and the Joneses from Tokyo. In a dream of the future, our Patels and Singhs might just make better cricketers than India’s and our Bothas and Vunipolas might be better than South Africa’s or New Zealand’s.

Anyone who can’t quite see why people love Roger Federer so much should have been at the O2 on Sunday night. Long after he had thrillingly beaten Andy Murray, and with the stadium rapidly emptying, Rog was busy with the fans happily signing endless numbers of giant purple tennis balls. The fans know he’s like that, and that’s why the cheer when Rog won the first set tie-break was so huge that Murray was left wondering who was the home-team player.

On a personal sporting note, now that winter’s almost here I’m looking forward to skiing and hiking in the Alps with my old and trusted chum Denis MacShane, the former Labour MP, who has come in for some unfriendly fire recently. Denis has been a fearless campaigner for many years against anti-Semitism and Islamic fascism. He’s a passionate Europhile, and not only does he know where Europe is, he can speak several of its languages, unlike most of his former colleagues in parliament. It will be a crying shame if his voice isn’t heard again in British public life.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


Show comments
Close