By CHRIS RATTUE
Bad sideburns. Bad memories.
An English journo stirred the old memory pot before this week's match between the English and Maori teams at New Plymouth as he recalled one of the black days for New Zealand rugby.
The occasion: the 1973 test at Eden Park where England defeated the All Blacks 16-10 - still the only time an individual team from the Home Countries has won a test in this country.
It was also the first test I ever went to. The sense of childhood bewilderment came flooding back. The world turned upside down that day.
Then I thought of the match programme which has been carted all over the place for three decades - its pages only just hanging together care of a couple of rusty staples.
The English journo, who last week wrote in the London Evening Standard that the 1973 victory had been "scandalously forgotten," continued.
Before leaving the motherland, he had interviewed Jan Webster, the little halfback who starred in the test and is now a sports store owner in his native Birmingham.
Looking at that 1973 English lineup, they deserved to be respected, despite losses to Taranaki, Wellington and Canterbury.
Cotton, Pullin, Stevens, Ripley, Ralston, Uttley, Watkins and Neary constituted a decent pack.
The backs might not have had the same pedigree, bar Lions star David Duckham on the wing, but when did a little thing like not having a backline worry an English rugby team.
Webster remembered the test for "prehistoric rugby and fabulous sideburns," and recalled he was named man of the match.
Detailed research by this column reveals that claim to be absolutely true. Flick through the New Zealand Rugby Almanack for that year and you will be struck by some of the most extraordinary sideburns ever cultivated on this planet. You could cut them using a tractor.
As for man of the match, there is no record, although Webster had a hand in all three English tries.
The 1973 English sojourn had been hastily arranged after a tour to Argentina was cancelled over terrorism fears. Following the test victory, the English partied all night and promptly got on a plane for home.
Only two papers sent reporters to cover the tour, and there was no live television coverage of the test.
Webster says: "No one gave us a prayer. You know, if you look at a century of British sport, I don't think this achievement has ever really been accorded the sort of kudos it deserved. It was a monumental achievement for rugby here."
Fast forward 30 years, and the setting for another mighty England-New Zealand rugby clash could not be more different.
The game itself has changed drastically. Thirty years ago, the scientific approach might have involved doing an extra lap at training. John Mitchell and Clive Woodward are now armed with the sort of information that would make your hair curl. They might even be able to tell you why it curled.
These Englishmen are certainly not seen as deadbeats, particularly after their second-stringers did a very good impersonation of the big kids playing against the little kids when they crushed the Maori team at Yarrow Stadium.
The All Blacks, while always demanding respect, no longer inspire the same awe that Webster talked about.
As for publicity, there will be no hiding of English lights under bushels this time, even though the World Cup will eventually overshadow everything else this season.
A pack of English reporters are on this trail, and worldwide television coverage is a gimme. This is no hasty trip, not in the making anyway.
After the 1973 victory, Webster reckoned the English players sat in the dressing room asking: "Hang on, this isn't supposed to happen, is it?"
The All Blacks deserve slight favouritism tomorrow, particularly on home ground advantage. It would not be a surprise though if, at full time, the English can say: "It all went according to plan."
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By CHRIS RATTUE