I like to think of myself as a reasonably patriotic chap, but there is a point at which I draw the line, rather than cross it. Last weekend France presented England with a ‘shock’ defeat in their opening game of the 6 Nations and I found myself actively not caring. Worse, in fact – good for France, I thought, and balls to England. They deserve to reap all the crop from the hubris harvest that they so often sew. Nothing sends me hurtling the opposite of excited as rugby, and thanks to the 6 Nations I am reminded by myself to remind you that I can’t stand the game. I can’t think of very much useful that rugby has given us; Wales having a reason to exist and Scotland having yet another sport to be bad at, I suppose. Otherwise it is a pastime which allows people to think they are somehow involved in a kind of noble substitute for war. War without death, war without guilt, war without battle. Pretend war for overgrown boys who enjoy showering together. That’s rugby.
My memories of playing rugby as a child are fairly scant but I can at least say that I did. I was never the weakest at sport but I can also say with an odd pride that I was one of the most firmly indifferent towards it. Happy to score a goal, but not too fussed about setting it up for myself. Happy to hit with the willow but not bothered with all that bowling and fielding crap. Happy to prance around in the middle of a rugby pitch but loathe to do pretty much anything else. I never was one to enjoy the tightening of the skin under a layer of drying mud. I never liked cleaning my boots and the big, cold shower room wasn’t intimidating or confusing: it was just rubbish and I couldn’t get away quick enough. For some people the rugby will never die, for me it was stillborn.
And there are so many things wrong with rugby. The labyrinthine rules for a start, which over years of vaguely trying I have never fully understood. Line outs, penalties, drop kicks and so on: I don’t know why they happen or when they should happen but what I do know is that they all seem stupid. And what better way of celebrating repressed infantalism and coarse man love than the mighty scrum, where grown men with vast beards in tight shorts finger each other’s genitalia and sniff each other’s waxed balloon knots, all in the name of gaining a couple of feet of turf. Couldn’t they just walk? Only in rugby do men twice as wide as they are tall wrap gaffer tape round their heads to avoid having their ears ripped off.
Rugby fans like to hold their sport up as some kind of gentleman’s club where all is fair and one plays by the rules, but in blunt reality it’s become no different to any other sport now that there’s a few quid to be made. Just look at the recent shit-stink at Saracens. The honky cloud of corruption and avarice hangs thick and tall over them and for once someone has had the nerve to do something about it. In my world it has suitably stained the sport in public in such a manner that no-one will ever again be able to tell me it is a noble pursuit with a straight face. Like every other big sport Saracens didn’t succeed through motivational speeches and oriental thigh massages; it just bought success, by any means, but it seems it might have paid just a little bit too much for it. Long may they linger lower.
Moving on. Rugby pundits, in fairness, are no better or worse than pundits in any other sport, though I am quite convinced that the world could easily do without John Inverdale, a crass Devonshire saddleback slob and a man who should really have been doing the job equally badly 40 years ago. Much worse are the armchair rugby twats who will happily regale you with the intimate details of ‘their’ team’s win at the weekend and how they had predicted it all along, but then noticeably shut the fuck up next Monday after failing to predict some shameful annihilation at the hands of the one legged, short sighted Tahitians 3rd XV. Rugby bores will tell you that that game, this game, any game is something much more than it really is – a fight to the death, for honour; a spectacular clash of giants in an arena fit for the gods. Nonsense. Eddie Jones warned France to expect “absolute brutality” in their match and that proves two things – that in the end it’s just a big old pub brawl followed by a bit of running around with a ball, and that Eddie Jones talks out of his Australian arse. In the end rugby is just about cupping testes and getting covered in mud and if I could go back in time I would have snatched that noticeably spherical ball from William Webb Ellis, put a knife through it and thrown it over the fence. Watch the 6 Nations this weekend. Go on. You’ll soon see that everything I’ve just said about rugby is completely correct. Well, give or take.
G B Hewitt. 07.02.2017