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Like a push-start taxi, my career covering rugby has gone from one breakdown to another | Paul Rees

For his final Observer report, our stalwart writer offers his reflections on decades covering a sport rich in drama and spectacle but that now stands at a crossroads

The car was a cross between a Lada and a Trabant, a cut-and-shut probably. It was parked in a taxi rank outside the one hotel in Bucharest that had any swank or alcohol. It was 1994 and the following day Wales were playing Romania as punishment for making an early exit from the World Cup three years before. The International Rugby Board had held a media conference about nothing very much and it was time to retire to a modest establishment on the outskirts of the city to serve up the match preview.

Behind was a Mercedes, not the latest model but not pre-war either. On approach, the driver appeared to be making a sales pitch but became frantic when the door handle was touched. He made shoving movements with his hands, as if it needed to be lifted off to gain entry. Not quite. The owner of the other taxi knew at least one word of English and smirked as he said: “Push.” Ten miles was a long way and at least his car started, if noisily and reluctantly.

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