Luhansk (Ukraine), 04/03/2022.- A still image taken from handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry'Äôs press-service shows a Russian serviceman guarding a checkpoint in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, 04 March 2022. (Rusia, Ucrania) EFE/EPA/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES | RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS S

Ukraine’s defiance, in the face of an overwhelming invasion force, has been truly remarkable and may go on at street level for weeks, even months. But even as I watch the TV newsreels in a mix of admiration and mesmerised horror, I find it hard to believe that – short of a miracle - Putin won’t eventually seize the levers of power in the country.

Then what happens? There are fears that he may want to go on and try to win back more of the former Soviet territories, such as Poland and the Baltic states, now defended by Nato. That, of course, would lead to a major European war, possibly involving tactical nuclear weapons (as used by Russia in Syria).

A more likely scenario is that, if he overcomes Ukraine’s resistance, he will simply install a puppet leader, then sit tight and gloat over the coup he has won over the west. For all the fine talk from the United States and Europe, they will have stood back and allowed Putin to march in on a sovereign, democratic country and crush it. Sanctions are meaningless in that context.

“Standing by Ukraine” – whether declared by the American President, the United Nations, the European Union or the British Parliament - has meant, in reality, watching from the sidelines as its people are killed, much of its population exiled and its institutions overrun by an alien (and possibly unhinged) dictator.

If Ukraine goes that way, it is hard to see it ever being recovered by its own people. The country is simply too rich in natural resources for Russia ever to consider bargaining away their victory in some sort of “peace process.”

I see that the President of Ukraine claims to have escaped an assassination attempt and “eliminated” the threat. His country’s only hope is that somebody succeeds in assassinating Putin. Poison would be an appropriate weapon.

There is no popular support in Moscow, and no Politburo, to fight for his paranoid grandiose delusions against the hatred of the rest of the world.

Killing the monster would, in my view, be a moral act, saving thousands of lives and preserving the threatened stability of the civilised world.

Farewell to two heroes

Two of my sporting heroes have died this week. In age they were 40 years apart; Va’aiga Tuigamala 52 and Sonny Ramadhin 92. They were also very different in shape and size, The Samoan-born All Black was a giant: the West Indian was slight and stood barely 5ft 4ins. tall. They probably never met. Yet they both exuded an inner strength and goodness – and a touch of mystery- that made them rarities in their sports.

While he was playing for Wigan Warriors, Jason Robinson, like Tuigamala a dual-code international at rugby league and rugby union, says his Samoan team-mate “saved my life and turned it around,” rescuing him from an addiction to drink that caused him depression and brought him close to suicide.

Ramadhin will always be linked, in calypso and in the record books, with his bowling partner Alf Valentine: “Those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.” Between them the pair took 59 wickets in the 1950 series, their country’s first-ever victory over England. Sonny (a name his friends gave him because there was no name on his birth certificate) Ramadhin was a shy man, a non-drinker when he arrived in England (in later life he ran a pub near Oldham) and different from the rest of the team in coming from an Indian background (the first West Indian cricketer to do so). On the field he always bowled with his sleeves buttoned at the cuff and often with his cap on.

Denis Compton said he saw a blur of black hand, red ball and white sleeve as the ball was delivered. A commentator wrote: “As his hand comes up behind his head, something mysterious happens, too quick for the eye to take it in.”

None of the 1950 Test matches were played at Edgbaston, so I never saw Ramadhin then, though I tried to match his bowling action (without success) in our kids’ games. But I sat through every minute of the famous Test match at Edgbaston when West Indies returned in 1957.

He bowled England out for 186 in the first innings, taking 7-49 and seeming unplayable. Then, on the Monday, Peter May and Colin Cowdrey, found a way to play him, using their pads so successfully that they created a record partnership of 411. It was a very hot day and my father said half my face was tanned and the rest stayed white.

I never saw Tuigamala in his great days at rugby league for Wigan Warriors, where he is still revered. The chief executive, Kris Radlinski, said on his death: “Every now and then a player comes along who touches the heart and soul of every single fan, player, coach and administrator. He was one of the most exciting players in either code. His presence on the field was huge.”

I saw him when he helped both Wasps and Newcastle win the Premiership. He was almost impossible to bring down. As Will Carling once said: “Tackling Tuigamala is like poking your head in the spokes of a moving bicycle wheel.”

Rugby in the snow

Bookies favour Ireland to beat England at Twickenham tomorrow – something I have never known in watching games between the two countries for exactly 70 years. Yes, my first outing to Twickenham was in March 1952, when I was 14 (before all tomorrow’s players, as well as Eddie Jones, were born).

My father insisted on using our tickets even though the game was played in a snowstorm. It wouldn’t be allowed today. Nobody dared to pick up the slippery ball and the match was a series of foot rushes. like a clumsy game of soccer with the wrong shaped ball. From one of these foot rushes England scored the only try of the game.

That’s about all I remember about my Twickenham debut – except that I’ve never been so cold in my life.

Another game I remember is 1978, when England won 15-9. While an injured player was being looked after on the ground, Willie Duggan, the Irish number eight, came over to the crowd near me, leaned over the low fence (which you could do in those days) and asked for a cigarette. Somebody passed him one and he had a few puffs before trotting back on to the field.

As for tomorrow’s game, the only smoking will come from the heat of the scrums. I have a horrible feeling that the bookies may be right, unless England can find the penetration that has been sadly lacking in mid-field.

I hope they do, if only because I will otherwise lose a 5 Euro bet to my friend Ian, who claims to be Irish when it suits him.