Twelve Feet Tall
Tony Ward, Justin Doyle
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Ireland may be a powerhouse in international rugby in 2015, with its club teams of Leinster, Munster and Ulster perennially performing brilliantly in Europe, but to many people of a certain age the late 1970s and early 1980s were a golden period, too. Even though the sport was thrillingly amateurish in spirit as well as organisation, their most famous club win, arguably, was a thrilling performance from a Munster team led by Tony Ward who defeated the mighty All Blacks in 1979 at Thormond Park - ranked as a classic and still the only time an Irish team have beaten the Kiwis. Ireland would then enjoy their first Triple Crown success for thirty-three years in 1982 with Ward jostling with the other great Irish fly-half, Ollie Campbell, to lead the team. Ward was a mercurial talent. Much like the maligned Danny Cipriani today, his self-belief and unique way of playing the game he wanted his team to, marked him out as a rare talent. In the days of limited internationals, and few far-flung tours, he would only amass nineteen caps for his country, as well as single a tour of South Africa with the British and Irish Lions in 1980. Although the Lions lost the series 1-4, Ward would set the record for a Lion, scoring 18 points in a Test, which still stands today.
He will now tell his story, of the triumphs and disappointments, as well as the great friendships he made, and greatest matches he played in. He will equally be forthright in what he thinks of the game today, and how Ireland will fair in the Rugby World Cup and beyond to the Six Nations in 2016. For any fan of Irish rugby, at whatever level you play, this is an elegiac memoir to cherish.
faces, mad and angry delight – how dare you doubt us. We are Munster. This is our patch. It is a field we cherish, and like ‘Bull McCabe’ we have had blood on our hands scratching rocks from rugged earth. We will die here. The great roars from the crowd could be heard for miles. As they surged forward to bellow their approval, the decibels got louder. It must have frightened the life out of our foe. The ‘invincibles’ were rattled. We were all in the zone and singing from the same hymn sheet. I
great Shannon RFC man Kevin Fitz made a brilliant late save from Daly. I enjoyed the game tremendously and I was happy with my performance. We still had a long way to go before reaching the final, but following the wins against Shelbourne and Bluebell, we were on a roll. During Limerick’s quarter-final against Aer Lingus, the referee awarded us a penalty. Suddenly a murmur from the three thousand crowd turned into a loud chant of ‘To–ny Ward, To–ny Ward, To–ny Ward . . .’ Some of my Limerick
reasonably well but made far too many errors. Commenting on the match the following day, Hugh McIlvanney wrote in the Observer: ‘Since aesthetic pleasure scarcely arrived in a flood, it was natural to grab at emotional satisfaction and the performance of Tony Ward was most certainly one of these.’ It took me a little time to get used to the pace with the English running at us throughout. It was very fast, but I managed to sort myself out. Or so I thought. I was particularly pleased for my
Doyle and Ciaran Fitzgerald. It was a meaningless match and as inconclusive as one could get. The only thing of note was my clashing heads with Ralph Keyes twenty minutes in. I played on, but Ralph had to withdraw. For the 1987 Five Nations, Deano was out-half and I sat on the bench for the opening two games. It was very frustrating watching a record 17–0 win over England in our first match at Lansdowne Road. Two weeks later, on 21 February, we faced Scotland in Murrayfield. Again I had to sit
God-given gift, but given the chance to develop that talent would have been Utopia. The only thing I would not have liked about today’s game is that the players are brought up to run at bodies. I was never a physical player and was taught to run into space. Now they are primed and robotically trained to run at their opponent and in the process break the gain-line. Jack Kyle and Mike Gibson just shake their heads when I talk to them about it. Everything now is about ‘systems’. You listen to