Magic night for Nick caps a great rugby weekend
GREYSTONES AND IRELAND RUGBY STALWART NICK POPPLEWELL PRESENTED WITH LIONS CAP
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.