“I read your book and it’s crap!” The Wales coach dared to face the All Blacks in a big way
Few people in their Test debut against the All Blacks would have dared to respond to a Sean Fitzpatrick sled with one of their own.
But there has always been a certain kind of courage in Jonathan Humphreys.
As Wales captain, the current strikers’ national coach has already had to be taken to a press conference after a game against ACT Brumbies in Canberra. The Tourists had lost 69-30 in such a one-sided game that the Battle of Little Bighorn seemed like a close competition.
In an effort to slow the field down at home, Humphreys had repeatedly thrown himself under the Aussie stallions. It was a tactic that ended with the number of cuts and bruises on his body matching only the number of points ACT accumulated.
But without him, it would have been more.
Humphreys ended up being helped into the press conference room and dropped off in his designated seat.
No one can say he has never failed to attack, on or off the pitch.
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He wasn’t the biggest hooker, around 11 and a half stones when he was soaked early in his senior career, he played with heart and wouldn’t recognize a lost cause if it hit him in the eye.
And so in his debut in the Test, against New Zealand in 1995, and the exchange with Fitzy.
It’s the Fitzy, remember, once described as “the toughest bast ** of the bunch,” who had once been taken low to the face by a punch from Irish hooker Steve Smith.
Smith expected Fitzpatrick to fall to the ground in a crumpled heap. It didn’t happen. Instead, the No. 2 All Blacks removed their mouthguard, spat out some broken teeth, and smiled.
Either way, Humphreys met him seconds before Wales faced New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup.
“My Test debut was during the tournament and I was directly against Sean Fitzpatrick,” he recalls in Rugby paper.
“As we were running out of the tunnel, he said, ‘You’re not ready for this, little boy.’
“I had read his autobiography before going there and during a line-up he was chatting like he had been doing the whole game and I said, ‘Dude, I read your book and that was crap . ‘
“As soon as I said it, I thought, ‘What have I done!’
“I was then stunned by Jamie Joseph’s swing arm and I don’t remember much after that. “
Just three months later, Humphreys was captain of Wales against South Africa.
He did the job 17 times before leaving Cardiff for Bath and ending up outside the Test group.
But after Wales lost to Italy in Rome four years later, the call was made for new players and a new captain.
Steve Hansen turned to Humphreys, calling him back from the desert to face England and handing him the armband as well. “The lack of heart in Italy has appalled me and I intend to make everyone play with courage and envy,” said Humphreys at the time.
It was the only way Humphreys knew how to play.
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He actually faced off against Fitzpatrick in 1997 in the Kiwi legend’s last test.
At that point, you would have hoped the All Blacks would recognize that the “boy” two years earlier had turned into a man.
Because in terms of courage alone, Humphreys has always deserved respect.
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