Magic night for Nick caps a great rugby week­end



ON a week­end when the mighty All Blacks fi­nally tasted de­feat in Dublin, a rugby great who knows all about beat­ing the Ki­wis was feted at Grey­stones Rugby Club.

Nick Pop­plewell, who was on the Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions team that recorded a fa­mous vic­tory over the All Blacks in 1993, re­turned to his for­mer club to re­ceive a cer­e­mo­nial cap from his ex-team­mate (and room-mate on the tour) Gavin Hastings who trav­elled over from Scot­land for the spe­cial oc­ca­sion.

LAST week­end was a spe­cial one for Ir­ish rugby.

While Josh van der Flier and his Ire­land team­mates de­mol­ished the mighty All Blacks on Satur­day, Fri­day night was a spe­cial oc­ca­sion for Nick Pop­plewell and his fam­ily when they gath­ered in Grey­stones Rugby Club.

Nick was pre­sented with his Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions Cap for the 1993 tour by then-cap­tain Gavin Hastings, who made the trip over from Scot­land for this spe­cial oc­ca­sion.

Ear­lier this year, the Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions de­cided to award cer­e­mo­nial caps to past and present play­ers, so Fri­day saw plenty of smiles and rem­i­nisc­ing about beat­ing the All Blacks on that ’93 tour, giv­ing Pop­plewell his soli­tary vic­tory over the All Blacks, de­spite hav­ing played them on six oc­ca­sions

‘This is magic, we were a proud and hon­oured club as we hosted the Pop­plewell fam­ily for this in­cred­i­ble event,’ said Club Pres­i­dent, Rory O’Con­nor.

On the night Nick was ac­com­pa­nied by his wife Rachel, whom he first met at the club, and his chil­dren So­phie, Re­becca and Ben. They and the 180 din­ner guests, in­clud­ing for­mer team­mates and Grey­stones play­ers, heard how Nick was one of only two Ir­ish play­ers to start that tour.

Pop­plewell played with Gorey RFC from 1982 to 1984 and Grey­stones from 1984 to 1997, while he played with Le­in­ster from 1987 to 1997, and Ire­land from 1989 to 1998, win­ning 48 caps for his coun­try. He played his fi­nal three years as a pro­fes­sional with New­cas­tle Fal­cons, where he made 19 ap­pear­ances as they won the 1997/’98 Pre­mier­ship.

Gavin Hastings, the 1993 tour cap­tain, spoke of Pop­plewell’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Lions, spec­i­fy­ing that the tight­head prop was one of few play­ers to start in all three tests. The fa­mous vic­tory in the sec­ond test was also, un­til re­cently, the largest test win over New Zealand.

Gavin re­vealed that he and Nick had ac­tu­ally been room­mates on tour and that Nick could out-run him over a ten-me­tre sprint!

RTE’s Hugh Cahill pre­sented a mon­tage of Poppy’s play­ing days, with 1980s matches in the town and noth­ing be­tween GRFC and the sea, as well as a world-class try scored by Nick for Ire­land v Zim­babwe.

Apres-din­ner, the ir­re­press­ible Ris­teard Cooper en­ter­tained all with some in­cred­i­ble im­pres­sions and achingly funny ob­ser­va­tions.

The rugby club was ex­tremely proud to have hon­oured their Grey­stones Lion in this way.

Re­flect­ing back on his ca­reer, Pop­plewell said: ‘Dur­ing that time, the Lions never gave caps, but after your first in­ter­na­tional one re­ceived an Ire­land cap and also re­ceived a cap after your first World Cup game.

‘I was num­ber 654, with some 700 play­ers re­ceiv­ing caps. I re­ceived my Lions cap in the post a few months back. It was a nice ges­ture to have the pre­sen­ta­tion in Grey­stones Rugby Club. It gave me an op­por­tu­nity to meet up with Gavin (Hastings) once again, while I also met with so many past mem­bers and play­ers from the club – peo­ple I had not seen for a long time. It was a lovely night, a most en­joy­able one, with much rem­i­nisc­ing over the past while also so much talk of the present and the up­com­ing game with the All Blacks.’

Pop­plewell re­flected on the chang­ing times in rugby, par­tic­u­larly Ir­ish rugby.

‘The dif­fer­ence now play­ing the All Blacks is one has to be­lieve. I did not think we would beat the All Blacks with Conor Mur­ray not play­ing. But we had 21 play­ers be­liev­ing, be­liev­ing they could beat the All Blacks. That’s the dif­fer­ence.

‘It was just an in­cred­i­ble oc­ca­sion. It was also in­cred­i­ble to pre­vent the All Blacks from scor­ing a try. When was that last achieved? The at­mos­phere, the in­ten­sity of the game from start to fin­ish, was some­thing else. You get that in these games be­cause you only play the likes of the All Blacks, Aus­tralia and South Africa ev­ery two years. It was an elec­tric oc­ca­sion, a very proud oc­ca­sion for rugby and Ir­ish sport in gen­eral.’

On the pro­fes­sional game, Pop­plewell, who spent his fi­nal three years as a pro­fes­sional player, said: ‘The game has taken on a whole new di­men­sion. In the past, Ire­land were al­ways bril­liant for 50 min­utes but gone after that. That’s no longer. It’s a dif­fer­ent game now, for your life is dic­tated seven days a week.

‘Look at Le­in­ster and their player pool. No club in the world has a player pool like Le­in­ster. Some of their play­ers are mov­ing to other prov­inces for game time to en­hance their in­ter­na­tional ca­reers.

Now Ire­land can look for­ward to the Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship in the new year lead­ing into the World Cup in the sum­mer car­ry­ing the man­tle of the top rugby na­tion in the world.

Nick Pop­plewell with is cer­e­mo­nial cap.

1993 Lions cap­tain Gavin Hastings pre­sen­tat­ing Nick Pop­plewell with his Lions Cap from the 1993 tour with in­com­ing Grey­stones RFC pres­i­dent Vic­tor Me­gan­nety.

Mark Robin­son, James Leonard, Alvin Gun­ning, Frank Mal­one and Donal O’Gal­lagher.

Nick Pop­plewell at work in Ar­gus Fur­nish­ers in Bray after be­ing named as one of the play­ers for the 1993 Lions tour to New Zealand.

Clodagh and Gwen Gan­non.

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