Arise Sir Percival, go forth and conquer

Percy Montgomery almost sounds like he should have been sitting with King Arthur and his knights but instead the evergreen South African fullback will be chasing his own Holy Grail of the Rugby World Cup.

The 33-year-old admits he is in the twilight of his career and has an added urgency after he missed out on the 2003 World Cup because of an out of character loss of temper which saw him push a linesman to the ground while playing for Welsh side Newport.

That saw him banned for two years—18 months of which were suspended—but it could have been a blessing in disguise as he missed the debacle of the 2003 finals where the 1995 world champions arrived already a laughing stock under coach Rudolph Straeuli.

Stories of their preparations included a boot camp and subsequent under-par performances during the World Cup which saw them go out in the last eight.

However, the dashing golden-maned Montgomery—the national side’s record points scorer with 797 and if selected for Friday’s match with England will join Joost van der Westhuizen as the leading cap winner with 89—refuses to enter into the pros and cons of that campaign.

“I wasn’t part of it so there is no need for me to comment,” said Montgomery, who opened this campaign in fine style scoring 29 points in the 59-7 defeat of Samoa last Sunday.

“As for the ban well I guess it was good to have a break! It was a blessing in disguise as it gave me plenty of time to prepare for the next season.

“However I accept there was no excuse for what I did and you have to apply the laws to the game.

“We are responsible for promoting the game and I patently did not do that and I accept my responsibility in the affair and am glad to have had another chance.”

For the fullback blessed with Hollywood leading man looks he is remarkably humble and understated but says the spirit in the camp is the best he has known it since he made his debut 10 years ago.

Although he was part of the South African team that defeated England in the 1999 quarterfinals at the same ground, the Stade de France, he contrasts the spirit then as being less together than now.

“1999 was a long time ago and the spirit is vastly different. We have for the most part all been together since 2004 and we have built up friendships which has strengthened the squad,” said Montgomery.

“We are some of us in the twilight of our careers and we are looking to go out on a high note.”

The former Western Province star, who proved inspirational as the Sharks made the Super 14 final in the last campaign only to lose to the Bulls, was typically humble about equalling Van der Westhuizen’s record.

“To get on the field is a great achievement and of course it will be a great honour to share the record for the Springboks. It will also be thanks to Jake [White] as it was he who encouraged me to return to South Africa from Wales,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery, who shares the first name Colin with the golfer Montgomerie, puts his longevity down to one thing.

“My wife keeps me young!” grinned the father of two, a girl and a boy.

As for his future after the World Cup, “Monty” is very much looking forward to his new life with French side Perpignan.

“I haven’t had much time to think about it with the World Cup and all that but my family are really excited.
We have lived in the UK in Wales and made a lot of friends there and still go back there a lot.

“I like the French culture and the people so it should be fun.”

First, though, Monty will endeavour to make it a golden twilight to his glittering career. ‒ Sapa-AFP

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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