x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Rugby legends Carlos Spencer and Conrad Jantjes deliver many memories at charity match

Carlos Spencer and Conrad Jantjes gave players in the Sharjah 10s charity event something to talk about, writes Paul Radley.

Former All Black standout Carlos Spencer, carrying the ball and playing for  ELC in blue and white, gave a few Sharjah Wanderers something to talk about in their charity match on Friday.
Former All Black standout Carlos Spencer, carrying the ball and playing for ELC in blue and white, gave a few Sharjah Wanderers something to talk about in their charity match on Friday.

SHARJAH // A 9am registration deadline for a Friday rugby tournament in Sharjah never before held such appeal for players.

No one wanted to miss this one.

If the Sharjah Wanderers did not have a history of pulling off such unlikely coups, it may have seemed a little unreal to have Carlos Spencer running around playing fields that were made of sand not so long ago.

"Running", of course, remains a hamfisted way for describing the mode in which one of the most flamboyant players ever to play the international game moves.

Gliding or floating is maybe more accurate.

The former New Zealand fly-half may be 37 now, and two years into his retirement from the professional game, but he has still got it judged by the exhibition he gave for a charity side representing the Early Learning Centre for Down Syndrome Awareness (ELC).

As if that was ever going to be in doubt.

Everyone was hoping to come away from the Wanderers event on Friday with their own Carlos Spencer story to relate over dinner.

Like, have I told you about the day I scored a try against him?

The day I put one on him? The day he dump-tackled me? The day I pinged him for a forward pass?

Someone will have at least one of those to tell their mates this morning.

Plenty of water has passed under the sporting world's bridge since the days when WG Grace, the champion cricketer of Victorian England, used to advise umpires to review their decisions to give him out.

As the legend goes, he used to point to the vast crowds beyond the boundary and tell them: "These people are here to watch me bat, not you umpire."

Spencer might have been minded to do the same when, at 10.12am and with his first real input into the 2013 Sharjah 10s, he off-loaded a trademark no-look, inside pop-pass, only for it to be penalised.

Clement Isack, the Sri Lankan official in charge of the match, motioned to suggest the ball had travelled forward.

He still had the whistle at his mouth when Conrad Jantjes, the former Springbok who was the charity side's other star import, picked him up and put him back down, as if to say: "Stop being a party pooper."

Or as Grace might have put it, these people are here to watch Spencer doing magic tricks, not you officiating.

ELC's opposition in that first match of the day, the East Coast Bulls, are a social team made up of workers from Fujairah.

The final whistle in their game ushered in the odd sight of the side who had just lost 33-0 thanking their opponents for the lesson they had been given, and asking to have photos taken with them.

Perhaps fittingly, the first time an ELC defensive line including Spencer and Jantjes was breached on Friday, it was by one of home club's longest-serving players.

Gareth Williams, who went through to score under the posts for the Wanderers, was one of the survivors from the day in 2010 when Christian Cullen, one of Spencer's All Blacks teammates, played in this tournament.

Indeed, the fact he felled Cullen with a tackle back then might even have been his favourite rugby story until yesterday.

"Everyone picked up their game to play against such renowned players, and as in 2010, it was an honour to play against another All Black legend," Williams said.



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