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Rugby World Cup 2019: The 'Dan Biggar Dance', Japan's win over South Africa and other memories from the 2015 tournament

A pitch invader who joined a ruck and came unstuck; a Mumm who became a dad and on-pitch marriage proposals

Wales fly-half had a particular pre-lick routine to calm his nerves during the Rugby World Cup 2015. Getty Images
Wales fly-half had a particular pre-lick routine to calm his nerves during the Rugby World Cup 2015. Getty Images

Rugby World Cups are full of curious life stories and tales of the unexpected. Few can match that of Schalk van der Merwe, who arrived at the 2003 tournament in Australia with the nickname Tarzan, a recent accolade of having been voted the hardest man in rugby, and the

uncommon day job of being a lion-tamer.

The Namibia flanker would sleep beside an adult male lion so they would get used to each other. Once he took his kid sister and her pet baboon to a zoo. The ape leapt into the lions’ den, followed by have-a-go-hero Van der Merwe. He got the big cat to release the pet from its jaws

by head-butting it, like you do.

Sadly, the whole team would have been as well trying to defend themselves with wooden chairs as Australia gave them the biggest mauling in World Cup history: 142-0.

By the time the last tournament came along in England and Wales four years ago, Schalk was running a sanctuary for orphaned animals, but there was no shortage of big personalities, whip-crackers and kings of the rugby jungle.

One man who was a perfect fit for all was All Blacks winger Julian Savea. His nickname of "The Bus" seemed if anything to understate his power when at the end of a barnstorming run down the flank, when his drive had already been depleted by two tackle attempts, he splattered

France full-back Scott Spedding out of the way to score his hat-trick try in the 62-13 quarter-final win.

Geoff Willmott, a nuclear physicist from Auckland University, computed that a stationary normal-sized man hit by Savea’s right shoulder at full tilt would be smashed backwards in the air for 17 feet. And he’s a winger.

Here are some other highlights of the 2015 Rugby World Cup:

Scotland winger Sean Lamont finally earned cap No 100 as a late sub against Samoa in 2015, with nine minutes left of the Scots’ 36-33 win in Newcastle. Oddly, he shared the century and the date with footballer Robin van Persie, who reached three figures for the Netherlands half a world away in Kazakhstan, with only three minutes to go. But both should remember the appropriate date 10/10. Lamont, meanwhile, was spotted in Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School hall playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the grand piano.

Two delicious placards from the South Sea Islands enclosures at RWC 2015 - the Samoa fan pleading “Don’t Go Into Labour Yet, Wife” and the mysterious Tonga offering “I Am The Aunt Of The Scrum-Half.”

Cameras at the Italy v Canada thriller in Leeds repeatedly caught a man mysteriously dressed as the Pope. It turned out to be a themed stag do which decided to take in the game on a whim. Others included Canadian actor Jim Carrey as The Mask plus various gladiators,

waiters, Caesars, Mounties, lumberjacks and grizzlies.

Australia's Bernard Foley was the man whose boot inflicted the cruellest fate in Scotland’s history in the notorious 35-34 quarter-final defeat, but it was hard to begrudge the clean-cut young fly-half his place in the sun. Ten years ago his dad fled hospital after open-heart surgery trailing drips to watch the boy Bern play. When the family smuggled dad back, docs checked out the pale teenager, who’d taken a kick in the side. He was rushed for a ruptured kidney

op, and laid up for a year.

The most grateful man during the Trauma of Twickenham was Aussie prop James Slipper, whose balloon pass was pounced on by Scotland centre Mark Bennett for what should have been the winning try. The only other person of note of that name was famed cop Jack “Slipper Of The Yard”, who will be forever linked in criminal history with a certain earlier Great Robbery.

Italy’s Mauro Bergamasco equalled Samoan winger Brian Lima’s record of appearing in five World Cups. Mauro, then 36, had seen off kid brother and Azzurri teammate Mirco, who didn’t make the cut. Then again, heart-throb Mirco once poised nude in the magazine Gods Of

Rugby. Nobody asked Mauro, who is no Brad Pitt.

RWC 2015’s first pitch invader didn’t go in for any of that old nudity or political statement. He arrived just in time to join a ruck, was dragged out by a Springbok bruiser, smashed by a Samoan, and heard referee and criminal barrister Wayne Barnes tell all three: “Don’t be

silly.”

A few nicknames from RWCs past and present ... Australian winger Adam Ashley-Cooper answers to "Two Dads", England flier Adedayo Adebayo mercifully settled for "Yo-Yo" and his cleft-chin captain Will Carling was known as "Bumface". Fans of David Bowie will recognise Canada flanker Johnny "Serious" Moonlight, while Newcastle Falcons’ 6ft 7in Italy lock Josh Furno is branded "Towering". Scotland fly-half Craig Chalmers copped for "Judith", Spain winger Oriol Ripol for "Raspberry" and Wales captain Sam Warburton is known throughout the game as "Avatar".

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer might have roused himself to something a bit more upbeat before the bronze final at London’s Olympic Stadium than his ungracious scene-setter. “It means nothing to me” he growled. “It’s like kissing your sister.”

Scotland tiptoed through the tulips to make Tim Visser a cap last time and there was another fringe Flying Dutchman who might well have upped the level of Oranje in the Dark Blue. Sadly, for his name alone, Titus Klumper has faded out of contention.

It was hard to tell if ex-Wales TV pundit Gareth Thomas was being ironic or dim when he told viewers watching the well-fed Wales v Fiji clash: “This is becoming a war of nutrition”.

Japan’s Akihito Yamada was so excited after beating South Africa he jumped into the sea, was stung by a fish, and missed the next game.

The best mismatch was on the other side of the chalk, with a pitchside conversation between 7ft Martin Bayfield and 5ft 4in pundit Maggie Alphonsi, involving stiff necks all round.

Australian lock Dean Mumm had to make a pre-dawn scramble from the Wallabies’ base in Bath to London, arriving in the nick of time to see his son born. So he returned to action a Mumm and a dad. The US squad featured a 20st front row with the first name of Olive.

Australia coach Michael Cheika told his squad before they left to go away and compile family trees “so they knew who they were fighting for”. Scotland, with some players hailing from clans going back a thousand years, could do worse.

Ireland prop Mike Ross geared up for combat with the fearsome Argentina pack by going around with a 30lb weight strapped around his head for several minutes at a time. And The Man In The Iron Mask thought he had it tough.

One of the undoubted highlights from four years ago was the Dan Biggar Dance. The Wales marksman’s just-plug-me-into-the-mains place-kick ritual had the unique trick of settling the Wales marksman while unsettling everyone else. He reverted to something a bit less

twitchy after the tournament.

In their pool game the South Africans had to abandon their ploy of shouting line-out codes in Afrikaans because Scotland had a couple of Boks of their own. The language is a guttural joy. A prop is a stut, and a tight-head is a vaskopstut, which can be translated as concrete-head prop. A lock is a slot and a run is a hardloop. A Scottish No 9 would be a Skotse skrumskakel and if he got a punch on the nose it would be a snot-klap.

Japan could claim the most distant fan at RWC 2015. Astronaut Kimiya Yui was pictured in a Brave Blossoms top in the International Space Station.

Neat quip from TV summariser and former Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy in comparing himself unfavourably to Pacific bulk-monsters: “I’ve seen bigger arms on a record player.”

Dubliner Murphy was also the unwitting source of England centre and Leicester teammate Billy Twelvetrees earning the nickname “36”, which is what you get when multiplying 12 and the Irish pronunciation of three.

Tongan giant Sione Kalamafoni was feted for several years for a heroic deed which, echoing his surname, turned out to be phoney news. A rumour went round the game that the 6ft 6in, 19st enforcer was in the right place at the right time one day back home when he rescued

several children from a blazing orphanage. On signing for Leicester, he put the record straight.

Respect to Romania, sadly missing in Japan for the 2019 tournament. They were watched by a world record crowd at Wembley, a new ground record at MK Dons, pulled off the biggest recovery in RWC history in beating Canada after trailing 15-0, and were the only tournament nation to have a player, Florin Surugiu, propose to his girlfriend on the pitch. She said yes. Coach Lynn Howells obviously thought Florin wasn’t the full shilling, growling: “Too romantic for me”.

The Pretoria News displayed a mixture of pride and prejudice at the sight of South Africans WP Nel and Josh Strauss in the Scotland camp. The paper lamented they had “moved to the Highlands of Scotland”. They played and lived in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Sometimes pre-game planning isn’t the smartest. The Ireland squad decided to spend a day at Alton Towers chilling out before the Italy game. It soon became clear that the rides weren’t exactly designed for rugby monsters. For lock Devin Toner - almost 7ft tall and 20st - the

exercise was a particular waste of time.

It’s unlikely any opponents speak Fijian, and while the islanders’ war dance - renamed “cultural challenges” at RWC 2015 - looks menacing, its message isn’t. Blood would probably not curdle to lyrics like: “Your fence is only made of wawamere creepers/It is easy to untangleI I can uproot you/ Yes, it will be achieved!”

Social media originating in Wales was awash with taunts to England after they effectively knocked out the hosts with a 28-25 win at Twickenham. The best was an X-Ray showing a miniature chariot which has found its way into the lower anatomy.

One of Scotland’s most fervent and distant fans sadly missed the team’s heroics. Toby Robertson was a quirky celebrity in New Zealand as a 101-year-old who drove out most days to check on his horses at stables in Dunedin. The son of Scottish immigrants resisted the lure

of the All Blacks to root for Scotland. He died a few days before the tournament.

The days when TV catered for colour-blindness, or indeed for owners of black-and-white sets, seem to have gone forever. RWC 2015 offered the classic Daltonism in the Canada v Ireland tie, where red shirts and socks were pitted against green shirts and socks, both with white

shorts. For sufferers, it was simply thirty shades of grey.

A new version of World In Union, which began every TV broadcast and ad break, led to a campaign from fans who thought Paloma Faith sounded like a cats’ chorus. One griped: “It sounds like someone paid a bribe to let their tone-deaf child be on telly.”

A banned set of bagpipes was smuggled bizarrely into an Australia game, yet none was able to break the security spooks’ ring of steel to inspire Scotland. Respect to the lone piper, not least his rendition of Advance Australia Fair, and the lengths he went to to hide the

components about his person, and then re-assemble them.

TV ads during breaks for Care deodorant with players sampling Rudyard Kipling’s famous inspirational poem If... missed a trick. They weren’t to know that Scotland’s David Denton is a direct descendant of the great man, even having Kipling as his middle name.

All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith oddly was the only Smith at RWC 2015. Samoa had three Pisi brothers, Wales three Williamses, South Africa and Namibia shared three men called Du Plessis and three Strausses were spread across Scotland, Ireland and South Africa.

The only notable rugby film is the 2009 Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and telling the stirring story of how the South Africa hosts emerged from the shadow of apartheid to lift the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Jonah Lomu was played by former Melrose favourite Zak Feau’nati - a convincing lookalike, but though he was a No 8 at The Greenyards, he was a bit on the small side to play the human earthquake. There have long been murmurings of a Japanese film telling how the 2019 hosts emerged from the shadow of whipping-boy status to beat South Africa last time. However, there’s still no sign of what they’d just have to call The Fifteen Samurai.

South Africa prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira is considered the world’s strongest player, aided by a YouTube classic of him easily holding an 18st teammate over his head to soften his fall, like a scene from Swan Lake, though without the tutus.

Namibian prop Johnny Redelinghuys was handed the ball to convert a try from in front of the posts with the last kick of their campaign, and also the last act before his retirement. Surprised by the honour and the unfamiliar skill, he missed.

Updated: September 17, 2019 10:51 AM

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