Chuck Norris has been the subject of a prolific internet craze for almost a decade now. In early 2005, online punters started posting satirically superhuman feats to underline the omnipotence of their favourite American martial artist-cum-actor. We’ve all heard at least one. “When Chuck watches, the paint dries instantly” is a personal favourite.
Well, now Norris has competition. Back in March on his 50th Super Rugby appearance for the Brumbies, against Australian rivals the Waratahs, Henry Speight broke his jaw in two places on the stroke of half-time. Refusing to jump in an ambulance or take painkillers – he was reluctant to come off at all – the wing sat on the touchline and watched the second half.
After seeing the Brumbies eke out an impressive 28-23 win, Speight headed back to the changing rooms to celebrate. The injury stopped him joining in with a victory song, but he did manage to address his colleagues collectively and congratulate them on their guts. Only then did Speight drive himself to hospital, where he required two operations. Probably more painfully than anything else in his opinion was that all this meant a two-month lay-off.
But Speight – rangy, rapid and blessed with the best ‘fro this side of the 70s – is far more than a teak-tough team man. Jaw healed, his performance last weekend against the Chiefs was wonderful in parts. Laurie Fisher’s rabid pack may have built the foundations for a 22-3 lead after half an hour, but Speight terrified the reigning champions early on.
Skipping and spiralling away from defenders to evoke memories of Joe Rokocoko – another Fiji-born firecracker – the 26 year-old that Stephen Larkham calls “the world’s best winger” beat seven tacklers with his first six touches. Aaron Cruden kept kicking him the ball. He kept carving up.
Speight’s showing was actually a microcosm of the entire game. He stormed out of the blocks, but let his champion opponents back in with moments of rawness – a couple of spills in contact, one overzealous turnover attempt that earned a yellow card. In the end, his part in a fantastic 32-30 success was significant, and fully deserving of a consequent call-up to Australia’s 32-man Rugby Championship squad.
Given he is only eligible for Australia on September 11 – half-way through the tournament and after two Bledisloe Cup ties – Speight’s inclusion is a massive endorsement. Ewen McKenzie has identified something special. Learning from New Zealand’s mistake, he isn’t about to miss out either.
Indeed, the impish edge of McKenzie’s humour was evident on Wednesday when he praised Waikato for nurturing three of his current crop: prop Sekope Kefu, centre Christian Leali’ifano and Speight, who spent three years with the provincial outfit. In 2011, Canberra came calling with a guarantee of a shot at Super Rugby and the rest – despite Wayne Smith’s attempts to coax the big-haired tackle-buster back over the Tasman – is history.
While Speight represented Fiji at the Under 19 World Championship in Belfast seven years ago (scoring four tries in one clash with Japan) he has clearly always looked beyond a white shirt. Who can blame him? Such ambition is deeply ingrained. Late grandfather Josefa Iloilo, a former Fijian President and surrogate parent to Speight from the age of four when his mother died, openly nudged him towards green and gold rather than any other option.
Yes, soon enough Speight will be a Wallaby, and probably an influential one. Another blockbuster runner to join imperious Israel Folau, electric Kurtley Beale, monstrous Tevita Kuridrani and ultra-tenacious Matt Toomua, plus plenty more.
Having won their last seven Tests, punctuated by June’s 3-0 series whitewash over France, Australia are sneaking up on the world scene. McKenzie has added steel up front to stealth out wide and they will be genuine World Cup contenders for 2015. They might even end New Zealand’s world-record winning run in Sydney on August 16.
Before that comes Saturday, and the Brumbies’ Super semi-final date with the Waratahs, a tie set to showcase many of the Wallabies’ riches. All four of the aforementioned backs will be present and correct. Young Scott Sio, the visitors’ loosehead, can enhance his reputation and Michael Hooper’s back-row battle against Scott Fardy should be phenomenal.
With one win each from their two previous meetings this term, both sides will fancy it as well. So, will it be the Brumbies’ big-game nous or the Waratahs’ red-hot home record that prevails? It’s difficult. Any prediction will be shrouded in some degree of uncertainty. Except this one: whenever the ball comes near Henry Speight, the volume and the voltage are sure to increase.