Tim Visser did rather more at Murrayfield last Sunday than announce himself as the first player from the Netherlands to score against the All Blacks. In touching down for a rare double, the Dutchman emulated the feat of England’s celebrated Russian Prince, Alexander Obolensky….writes Peter Jackson.
One of the most famous names in rugby folklore, ‘Obo’ left his native Saint Petersburg when his parents sought refuge in London following the Russian Revolution in 1917, one year after their son’s birth. By the time the All Blacks pitched up at Twickenham in the first week of 1936, the Prince had become a British subject and good enough at 19 for the selectors to pick him on the right wing.
He began as if to the manner born, an outside break taking him from his own half all the way for a try too good ever to be forgotten. The Prince scored a second that day in a 13-0 England win, emulating the achievement of another student wing from the Dark Blues, Geoffrey Rees-Jones whose scores a fortnight earlier at Cardiff Arms Park failed to save Wales from losing to the tourists by a single point.
The rarity of what they did can be gauged by how few British players have scored more than once on their first exposure to the All Blacks. Malcolm Price, the Pontypool and Wales centre, scored twice for the Lions during the opening Test of the 1959 tour in Dunedin where the tourists outscored the Kiwis 4-0 on tries only find themselves trumped 18-17 by six Don Clarke penalties.
Almost half a century later, in June 2008, Topsy Ojo of London Irish ran in two tries on his England debut at Eden Park, albeit in a losing cause. While Visser had played for Scotland on two occasions, Sunday’s marked his first against the men in black and his first at Murrayfield.
Scotland had lost their five previous matches against New Zealand there by some distance, conceding 24 tries and scoring one, a last-minute effort by Simon Webster in 2005. Visser, the RaboDirect Pro 12’s most consistent finisher since transferring from Newcastle to Edinburgh, trebled the tally in one afternoon with more than a little help from Matt Scott for the first and Mike Blair for the second.
That ice-breaking first Scottish win over the best team in the world may be as far away as ever but at least they had the consolation of scoring three tries against the Kiwis for the first time. Even when Jim Aitken’s team famously held them to the last of the two draws in the fixture, 25-25 almost 30 years ago, they managed just the one try, from ‘Lucky’ Jim Pollock.
Visser, a native of Hilversum who played for England schools’, qualified for Scotland via the three-year residency rule. In making his debut against Fiji last summer, he followed in the footsteps of Frans ten Bos, the London-born son of a Dutch pilot whose decision to relocate his family to Edinburgh led to Frans locking the Scotland scrum on 17 occasions during the early Sixties.
Visser’s penchant for scoring tries is bound to make him a contender for the Lions tour of Australia at the end of the season, one whose claim comes reinforced with a formidable physical presence. When Jonah Lomu established himself as a global superstar during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, nobody had ever seen anyone of second row dimension out on the wing.
At 6ft 4in and more than 18 stone, Lomu was considered a freak of nature at the time, not least by England after he ran over them four times during the semi-final in Cape Town. Since then wings built on similar lines have become all the rage. Visser’s size puts him in the same ball park as those gigantic figures on opposite wings for Wales, Alex Cuthbert and George North.
They are as tall and as heavy as the majority of second row forwards from 40 years ago, an era when wings tended to be slight figures like the incomparable Gerald Davies whose acceleration, balance and cunning made them match-winners. The most recent of the breed, Shane Williams, having retired to Japan, the will-o’-the-wisp brigade are thin on the ground.
David Lemi, Worcester’s Samoan, and the Wallaby Digby Ioane are two of the few. Julian Savea, the Hurricane from Wellington who matched Visser try for try during the All Blacks’ 51-22 win last Sunday, is another relative newcomer from the super-heavyweight division.
As Warren Gatland awaits another weekend of hectic activity, the Lions’ head coach will be watching Visser’s every move against South Africa at Murrayfield, not least in how he copes defensively with the hard-nosed Springboks.
The Lions’ list of wings, as they appeared last weekend, and how they measure up:
Player Height Weight Age
Alex Cuthbert (Wales) 6ft 6in 16st 3lbs 22
George North (Wales) 6ft 4in 17st 3lbs 20
Tim Visser (Scotland) 6ft 4in 16st 12lbs 25
Tommy Bowe (Ireland) 6ft 3in 16st 9lbs 28
Andrew Trimble (Ireland) 6ft 2in 15st 6lbs 28
Sean Lamont (Scotland) 6ft 2in 15st 10lbs 31
Ugo Monye (England) 6ft 2in 14st 13lbs 29
Charlie Sharples (England) 6ft 0in 14st 9lbs 23
*Chris Ashton (England) 6ft 0in 14st 9lbs 25
(*did not play against Fiji because of a one-match suspension)