It is re­mem­bered as a day when the law of the jun­gle ap­plied

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY -

and oblit­er­at­ing them from the sto­ried an­nals of uni­ver­sity rugby in this coun­try.”

In the Evening Press John O’Shea wrote that “for the sake of rugby foot­ball in the coun­try those re­spon­si­ble for yes­ter­day’s shame­ful hap­pen­ings must be given a force­ful re­minder that rugby is a sport.”

The colours match was more than that, though. It was the big­gest event of the year for both col­leges with the hype build­ing from early in the year and both teams fo­cus­ing specif­i­cally on the big game in No­vem­ber. As Cantrell says “this was the big­gest game a lot of the play­ers would ever play in”.

The ri­valry was fierce, the stakes were high and for any as­pir­ing rugby player in ei­ther uni­ver­sity this was the high­est honour. The Colours Ball – held in those days at places such as the Shel­bourne and the Gre­sham – was the added bonus although, Cantrell says, it could get a lit­tle out of hand even in such grand venues.

“There would be a bit of row­di­ness even at those but in a good way. You’d just throw an odd pint or throw a bit of pie or what­ever – it was more of a laugh than any­thing else. The most im­por­tant thing is to have a pint af­ter­wards and en­joy the oc­ca­sion. What hap­pened on the pitch stayed on the pitch.”

What hap­pened on the ter­races, on the other hand, didn’t quite stay on the ter­races. The an­tics of those stu­dents watch­ing had al­ways been a fea­ture of the colours match with eggs, fruit and some­times flour the pre­ferred mis­siles of choice.

‘At home in the jun­gle’

How­ever, in 1977 there was a dif­fer­ence and it per­haps of­fers a clue as to the ire of the var­i­ous news­pa­per re­porters in their re­flec­tions. At the time of the match the west stand was be­ing re­built, mean­ing the press had to sit up­stairs in the east stand – just above those rowdy, and in­evitably ine­bri­ated, sup­port­ers.

It didn’t take long for them to re­alise that throw­ing eggs and flour into the press box was just as en­ter­tain­ing as throw­ing it on the pitch. The writ­ing of the jour­nal­ists who were be­ing bom­barded shows that they didn’t take so kindly to such treat­ment.

“It is ap­pre­ci­ated that it is no place for the faint-hearted spurred on by the vo­cif­er­ous prompt­ings of the sup­port­ers on the ter­races, and some of those yes­ter­day would have been more at home in the jun­gle,” wrote Van Es­beck in The Ir­ish Times.

Con Houli­han, writ­ing for the Evening Press, went so far as to com­pare the stu­dents to foot­ball sup­port­ers, no less. “It seems that in a colours game you can get away with what might not be ac­cept­able even at Croke Park or Da­ly­mount,” he wrote.

While the worst thing that any of the play­ers ex­pe­ri­enced from the crowd was Spring see­ing the ball knocked off the tee by an orange peel as he pre­pared for a kick, this was some­what of a turn­ing point in both the at­mos­phere and in­deed the re­sults of the colours match as Trin­ity went on to win the next three-in-a-row in­spired by Spring and, later, Hugo MacNeill.

Cantrell played three in to­tal him­self while also play­ing for Le­in­ster but he has no doubts that the colours match was the big­gest event of the year, bar in­ter­na­tional duty. The match would reg­u­larly at­tract more fans than even a Le­in­ster and Mun­ster derby and was the mak­ing, or break­ing, of ev­ery­one who played in it. Even 41 years later the mem­o­ries re­main clear.

And as for the punch that Cantrell took in the open­ing min­utes? Well that was de­liv­ered by the brother of his girl­friend (and now his brother-in-law) Barry De­vaney who, Cantrell says, then turned on his heel and “ran away as fast as he could”. ■ This is part of a se­ries called

From The Back Pages, ex­am­in­ing sto­ries and events that have made the sports pages of The Ir­ish Times since 1859. If you have sug­ges­tions email [email protected]­ or get in touch on Twit­ter @Ruaidhri_Croke.


Michael Gib­son of Trin­ity (white jer­sey) ex­changes punches with UCD prop Tom Ka­vanagh (on ground) dur­ing the 1977 colours match.

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