Liam Botham and Shane Warne.

My last conversation with Shane Warne

LIAM BOTHAM COLUMN
IRC FRIDAYS

I had a stark and deeply saddening reminder of the unpredictability of life last week, when my friend Shane Warne passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly. I spoke to ‘Warnie’ on the phone last Tuesday; on Friday morning I was informed of his death.

I got to know Shane many years ago via joint acquaintances at Hampshire. We became good friends, collaborated on a few projects, played golf and had regular conversations about life, sport, politics and family. Being around Shane was always a ‘lift’. He had an exuberant and motivating personality, similarly inspiring on the blower and last Tuesday we had another long chat about, well, everything.

Shane was as positive as always and actually tailored his chock-a-block schedule to accommodate my dad and I for a charity golf function we’re promoting in September, so we finalised the date. He was always very supportive of our family, and he and Dad were going to Captain respective teams on that day.

On Friday, I was returning from a business trip, in high spirits, and sitting at Heathrow Airport when the terrible call came through. After the shock, I had to focus hard to balance myself as thoughts of Shane milled around my mind and I had flashbacks of the times we spent together. The news knocked me almost out of my senses.

Shane lived every day as if it was his last – with incredible enthusiasm – in this way he was correctly portrayed by the media. He was a family man throughout all his trials, tribulations and bad tabloid publicity, and he left behind three amazing children. He absolutely adored them and spoke of them often.

“Make the best of every day while you can, and treasure your loved ones” is an expression we all use from time to time, especially when friends and family pass on. For me, this has never felt more valid, more appropriate than right now. I’m sure many of you share the same emotions today, a week after Shane Warne’s death.

Warnie was a true legend who made gigantic strides in cricket to become the best spin bowler of all time, and with that he personally breathed new life into the game for generations to come. He will be sorely missed, and I wish I had a better phrase to express how I feel. As a global figurehead he’s left a huge void in sport, social and public life, irreplaceable and never to be matched. Rest in peace, Warnie!

***

The Six Nations match of the weekend is undoubtedly the massive clash between England and Ireland at Twickenham tomorrow. Ireland are marginal favourites, despite the home advantage for England and that is purely because England have been performing at, maybe, 60% capacity? What would you say, more than that?

I have little doubt, following his silence over the last few weeks, that England coach Eddie Jones has been asked to temper, or stop, his mind games. Whether his players are in full support will show in this crunch match in which the loser will fall out of contention. I have noted before that Jones may have lost the support of his players and this may well be his last chance to show that he still has their trust and can motivate them to do their best.

It’s hard to imagine Jones coaching England through to the World Cup if they fail to beat Ireland at home tomorrow. A new broom will sweep clean, there is enough time to bring a new man on board and they will play with renewed vigour. Teams with good new coaches always do.

But let me no get ahead of myself. England have the experience among their senior players to fire up the squad for their country, if not for their coach. And, for all I know, my assumptions about Jones may be a margin off the mark. We’ll see.

Ireland have been playing consistently well, not to the level they reached late last year but capable of clicking into gear for this vital encounter, in which case they’ll probably win the match. I have ties to Ireland, I live here and I enjoy watching them play, but I will be hoping for a much improved and in fact winning performance from England on Saturday. It is time for them to crawl from the morass, clean themselves off and deliver what we know they can deliver. They cannot tread mud for longer. Time is running out.

There will be a battle of skill and wit off the field too, with an Australian coach and former England rugby league player on one side and a former England coach and player on the other. I wonder what the talk was between Ireland’s coach Andy Farrell and his son Owen this week. A big match, this one!

I firmly believe France are the best rugby team in the world, and that is without them performing at full capacity. They shouldn’t find the Wales outfit much trouble in their game tonight. The pride of the partisan Welsh and the uniqueness of playing at the Principality Stadium have sunk many a rival here, but the French XV look too classy. Their worlds-best halfback pairing of Du Pont and Ntemack now extends to centre Jonathan Danty, a block of a man who must be giving his opposition centres nightmares.

If France strike quickly and clinically early on against Wales, as they did against Ireland and Scotland, it’s likely they will dominate tonight’s feature. If Wales can keep it tight going into half-time, as they did against Scotland, they can ramp up the pressure on the tournament favourites. But I can’t see Le Blue losing this one halfway down the home straight, since they are in good form and getting better.

We’ve branded all matches against Italy a “formality” for their opposing teams recently, but to be honest the Italians have made noticeable improvement this term and if they’re going to spring what would be a big surprise, it will be against a presently discouraged and below-best Scotland, tomorrow.

Italy’s coach, Kieran Crowley, said: “We have the chance to play in front of our fans, we want to turn the page and react on the pitch with a big performance.”

Unlikely, yes, but this is the best chance they’ll have!

Until next week.  – IRC.

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