By Alan Dymock
LIKE NIGHT-OUT stories, some rugby players just will not go away. Sure, tales of their exploits may become greatly exaggerated in the re-telling. However, in this upcoming Rugby Championship there are four characters that have returned to the fold like fabled pop stars, doing no harm at all to their own legend and keeping the older fans in hysterics.Hey, we wanted them back and it looks like some of them are back for good.
He hobbled through a World Cup on a misshapen claw of a foot, never grumbling, never letting up. Even with One-and-a-half legs he was one of the players of the tournament and a talisman for all of New Zealand to get behind. He slapped down a few young pretenders to his crown as the best openside in the world and he did so with humility.
Since then he has – shucks – turned down a knighthood on the grounds that he hasn’t stop playing yet. He has had a nice wee sabbatical away from rugby and is back, refreshed.
Some may argue that he should have retired at the top of the game, but he still has a lot to offer. Watch his team get behind him.
In 1986 the first showing of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera played out in London. Two years later, Quade Cooper was born in New Zealand.
The gimmicky bad-guy seems to have been around forever, just like the long-running musical villain Erik, the Opera-Ghost. Not that Cooper minds being the cartoony object of hatred by Kiwi fans. Long-time rival McCaw may finally be giving up the ghost in the spat, but Cooper still says he will “know that the crowd is going to get into you like that and embrace it, and I will.”
He’s just relieved to be back at the top after his Robbie Deans-enforced exile. Maybe he will cut loose in the most impressive fashion under Ewen McKenzie and against New Zealand in the first game.
Fourie Du Preez
The Napoleonic scrum-half may be a surprising inclusion in the South Africa squad, returning for the first time since the 2011 World Cup. He has been granted leave by his Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath to take part in the three Tests in South Africa.
He is not a stranger to fighting the odds – some may note that he has manfully battled against his receding hairline for some time – and he will not avoid confrontation with his own pack. It will be interesting to see what impact he has, if any, as well as seeing how his body handles the bumps and speed of international rugby after his time spent in Japan.
There is no doubt that his mind will be willing.
He has retired and returned more times than a struggling Soap actor, but Contepomi is locked in for one last Rugby Championship as Argentina look for their first ever win in the competition.
A bit like Audley Harrison, Contepomi probably should retire for his own good, but unlike Harrison the Puma playmaker is such a name, such a player and such a person that you can forgive him his reneging on his promise to hang up the boots after the England tour to Argentina. He is down on the squad sheet as a centre so who can rule out some last sprinklings of magic from him outside Juan Martin Hernandez.
Surely this is it for him, right? He’s not going to retire and return all the way to the World Cup, is he? Some fans would probably want that…
Read Rugby World’s exclusive Rugby Championship preview with Wallaby back Adam Ashley-Cooper in the September edition of the magazine – Out Now!