Centres have left their mark

Shetland is fast becoming a place noted for the longevity of its top sportsmen and women.

Cyclists Carlos Riise and Christine McLean, both on the wrong side of 40, are still performing well in events on the mainland, with the latter beginning her new season with a personal best time in a 10-mile time trial.

Distance runners Bill Adams and Ian Williamson are still pounding the roads, in rugby John Roy Nicolson still puts his body on the line while Jill Hibbert continues to defy the years on the hockey pitch. And these are just a few examples.

The sport of badminton, however, appears to be at the forefront of the ageless stakes.

Veteran players Gordon and Graham Keith and Anne Wood last weekend picked up a host of titles in the Scottish Masters Open Championships, including the venerable twins winning the 45 men’s doubles title.

There can be no doubt that the sports centres around the isles are a major factor in this success, and former councillor John Nicolson gave me an insight this week into how the coming of the oil era, while bringing valuable funds through the charitable trust, also played a significant part in changing the mindset of the powers that be.

Prior to the mid-1970s the only way to enjoy proper sporting facilities was either to be in full-time education or in the armed forces, he said. Then when oil workers descended on these shores, and required places to train and play, people started to ask the question: If these people can have it, why can’t the ordinary Shetland folk?

I remember someone saying at a Shetland Recreational Trust meeting some years ago, that “one of the best things the council ever did was to build leisure centres”. While I cannot recall the idendity of the speaker, surely he never spoke a truer word.

The British Lions rugby squad to tour South Africa this summer will be announced in a couple of weeks.

Many commentators have been having fun picking their selection over the past few days, and will be eagerly waiting to see how many of the players match those which coach Ian McGeechan ultimately decides on.

Four years ago I tried my hand at choosing a touring Lions party, but it bore little resemblance to the ageing and over-populous band selected by then coach Clive Woodward.

With McGeechan at the helm I would expect a fair representation of all four countries, as despite Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph there is not a lot between the respective sides. Scotland, after a miserable tournament resulting in only one win over a poor Italy, will presumably contribute the least members of the squad, but it should be remembered that the Scots, although outclassed by both Wales and England, should probably have beaten the Irish.

Anyway, here is my group of 36.

Full-backs: Lee Byrne (Wales), Delon Armitage (England), Rory Lamont (Scotland).

Wingers: Shane Williams (Wales), Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Thom Evans (Scotland), Luke Fitzgerald (Ireland).

Centres: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Tom Shanklin (Wales), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Riki Flutey (England).

Fly-halves: Simon Jones (Wales), Ronan O’Gara (Ireland), James Hook (Wales).

Scrum-halves: Mike Phillips (Wales), Mike Blair (Scotland), Chris Cusiter (Scotland).

Props: Euan Murray (Scotland), Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Andrew Sheridan (England), Phil Vickery (England), Adam Jones (Wales).

Hookers: Jerry Flannery (Ireland), Ross Ford (Scotland), Matthew Rees (Wales).

Locks: Paul O’Connell (Ireland, captain), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales), Simon Shaw (England), Donnacha O’Callaghan (Ireland).

Flankers: Martin Williams (Wales), David Wallace (Ireland), Stephen Ferris (Ireland), Tom Croft (England), Joe Worsley (England).

Number eights: Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Ryan Jones (Wales).

As well as being the best available, that squad has a reasonable balance with Wales contributing 13, Ireland 10, England seven and Scotland six.

Unfortunately there is likely no place for Scotland’s Chris Paterson, although McGeechan may pull a few surprises and the man regarded in some quarters as the world’s best place kicker could be well be one of them.

The English media have been touting either the permanently-injured Jonny Wilkinson or the error-prone but brilliant Danny Cipriani for the fly-half positions, but I would imagine the coach would prefer the less-talented but more reliable Jones and O’Gara.

Jim Tait


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