Sunday, April 01, 2012

Carlos Spencer plots Crusaders' downfall again RICHARD KNOWLER 31/03/2012

Carlos Spencer fails to stifle a laugh when reminded on his most infamous rugby date in Christchurch.
Anyone who was at the old AMI Stadium that balmy evening in late February 2004 can recall the moment with clarity. So, too, can the Crusaders fans who sat in their lounges at home and tossed their cushions at the TV screen in anger.
Here's a recap: Having sparked a breakout from inside his 22m zone, Blues playmaker Spencer finished off the move when he triumphantly marched to the in-goal touchline to dot the ball down in injury time.
As he marched back for the sideline conversion, which he nailed to deny the Crusaders a bonus point and give his side a 38-29 win, Spencer flicked the crowd the bird. They went wild with rage.
"People always remind me about that try, especially the boys over here in South Africa. It always pops up every now and then."
Labelled King Carlos in Auckland during his long career with the province and the Blues, as well as the All Blacks, Spencer was referred to in less affectionate terms in Canterbury and admits he never minded stirring up the local crowds.
"No I didn't. Exactly right. You always have to give a bit now and then," he said.
Born and raised in Levin, Spencer, who even as a schoolboy sported tattoos and wild haircuts, was recruited by then-Auckland coach Graham Henry in 1993. His prospects of working for his father's drainage business took a dive but Spencer probably made the right decision.
Now 36, he has spent almost 20 years of his working life playing or coaching rugby.
He earned 35 test caps with the All Blacks, enjoyed long stints with Auckland and the Blues and signed with English club Northampton in 2005.
In 2009 he signed with the Lions in Johannesburg as a player, but is now part of John Mitchell's coaching staff as the backline mentor.
Rarely one for conventional methods as a player, Spencer has also taken the bold decision to make Johannesburg his home.
He has no regrets, either, he emphasises. He loves the weather, his job and his family is happy.
This is despite Jo'burg being touted as one of the world's most dangerous cities with a crime rate that dominates headlines.
It seems everyone you talk to in the city knows of a friend who has had a bad experience and Spencer knows all about that.
Eighteen months ago Mitchell and conditioning coach Wayne Taylor were accosted by two intruders in their apartment and former All Blacks coach Mitchell was stabbed in the arm and leg.
Spencer, however, maintains that the pros of living in South Africa's largest city far outweigh the cons.
He is contracted to the Lions until the end of next season and has the option of extending the deal to 2014.
"I don't think it [the crime] is as bad as it used to be. When I first used to start coming over here, which was a long time ago, I definitely thought it was worse. Ever since I have been here in the last two years I have had no trouble at all and I have seen no signs of it.
"But obviously you have to be mindful of where you go and what is around you. It is something I never even worry about, to be honest. I just go day by day like a normal person does."
His family have spent the last six months living on a golf resort – he has whittled his handicap down to 10 – and in four weeks they are due to move into their new house being built in the upmarket suburb of Sandton.
Spencer's wife, Jodene, is due to start teaching at the private preparatory school their children will attend and he says they are not ruling out a long stint in the republic.
"I am not sure if that would always be in Jo'burg but being in South Africa – I can see it being long term. I love it here. I think it is a beautiful country and apart from the stuff [crime] that goes on it is a wonderful country. It is not bad when you can wear board shorts 11 months of the year."
Coaching agrees with him, he says, and last season he and Mitchell guided the Lions to their first Currie Cup title in 12 years.
He credits Mitchell for guiding him along for the past 18 months and wants to make coaching a long-term occupation.
Transferring their provincial success to the Super Rugby contest has been less successful and the Lions have won just one of their first four matches this season.
"We still have a long way to go and it has not been a great start for us, but we have been close and we are not too far off." And he rejects any suggestion he will pick up a South African accent, maintaining his native Levin tongue will not be diluted.
"Nah, no yet bro. No, no. I will leave that up to my kids. My young fellow is picking it up big time. No, not me."

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