Not many people on Test debut against the All Blacks would have dared to respond to a sledge from Sean Fitzpatrick with one of their own.
But then there always was a certain kind of pluck about Jonathan Humphreys.
As Wales captain, the current national forwards coach once had to be carried into a press conference after a game with ACT Brumbies in Canberra. The tourists had lost 69-30 in a game so one-sided it made the Battle of Little Bighorn seem like a close contest.
In an effort to slow down the home pack, Humphreys had repeatedly thrown himself beneath Australian studs. It was a tactic that ended with the number of cuts and bruises on his body being matched only by the number of points ACT ran up.
But without him, it would have been more.
Humphreys ended up being helped into the press conference room and deposited into his designated seat.
No-one could say he ever failed to front up, on or off the field.
He wasn’t the biggest hooker, around 11-and-a-half-stone when soaking wet at the start of his senior career, he played with heart and wouldn’t recognise a lost cause if it smacked him between the eyes.
And so to his Test debut, against New Zealand in 1995, and the exchange with Fitzy.
This is the Fitzy, remember, once described as ‘the hardest bast**d of the lot’, who had previously been caught flush in the face by a punch from Ireland hooker Steve Smith.
Smith expected Fitzpatrick to fall to the ground in a crumpled heap. It didn’t happen. Instead, the All Blacks No. 2 removed his mouth guard, spat out a couple of broken teeth and smiled.
Anyway, Humphreys came across him seconds before Wales faced New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup.
“My Test debut was during the tournament and I was directly up against Sean Fitzpatrick,” he recalls in The Rugby Paper.
“As we ran out of the tunnel, he said to me: ‘You’re not ready for this, little boy.’
“I’d read his autobiography before I’d gone out there and at one lineout, he was jabbering away as he had done all match and I said: ‘Mate, I’ve read your book and it was s**t.’
“As soon as I’ve said it, I’ve thought: ‘What have I done!’
“I then got knocked out by Jamie Joseph’s swinging arm and don’t remember much after that.”
Barely three months later, Humphreys was captaining Wales against South Africa.
He did the job on 17 occasions before leaving Cardiff for Bath and finding himself outside the Test fold.
But after Wales lost to Italy in Rome four years later, the call went up for new players and a new captain.
Steve Hansen turned to Humphreys, recalling him from the wilderness to face England and handing him the armband as well. “The lack of heart in Italy dismayed me and I intend to make sure everybody plays with courage and desire,” said Humphreys at the time.
It was the only way Humphreys knew how to play.
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He actually faced Fitzpatrick in 1997 in the Kiwi legend’s final Test.
By then, you’d have hoped the All Black recognised that the ‘boy’ of two years earlier had become a man.
Because in terms of courage alone, Humphreys was always deserving of respect.
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Source link : https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/ive-read-your-book-its-21752820
Publish date : 2021-10-04 18:27:07