Prepare to be spoken down to

Prepare to be spoken down to

“The 10 thought about finding grass, but instead chose to offload to a one-out runner. Attacking the blind side was also an option but, unwilling to risk killing the ball, he chose instead to step inside, keeping it alive to recycle another phase, which required a natural seven to police the breakdown.

With no ruck inspectors readily available, quick ball was not guaranteed. Understanding they had yet to earn the right to go wide, the nine off-loaded to his lock who, using the truck and trailer technique, ensured the gain-line was broken by forming a wedge.

Quick hands required now, the 10-12 combo executed a wraparound, confusing the drift defence who had anticipated a skip one-two. This ensured the mercurial 15 could enter the line and do what he had done better than anybody since his JCT days; broken field running. He took a man on on the outside, allowing himself a goose-step into the dead-ball area, before dotting down under the posts”.

— Excerpt from ‘How to Patronise the Plebs — A Commentator’s Guide to Rugby Speak”*

Next Sunday evening, as the Auld Triangle inevitably booms out from the tannoy and the curtain falls with the confetti around Croke Park, the notion that summer is somehow ending will nag like a petulant child.

It’s time to get back to school, to club games, to the couch or the barstool for Premier League matches.

September looms large like an insolent beast — brooding, suddenly vacant. And then you remember; pacing the corridors of your imagination, waiting patiently for a soft shoulder to exploit in the 12/13 channel, is the Rugby World Cup. Six weeks that will initially excite, but ultimately suffocate your sporting senses.

By the time it all ends on November 2 (yep, you read that date right), you will have heard and read so much about linespeed, depth charts and quick ball, you will be praying for a Munster Club quarter-final on a mucky pitch in Doora Barefield. The RWC is coming, so we better declutter our brains and prepare to be spoken down to. The battle to dominate our puny little minds is about to commence.

For many of us, rugby is an enjoyable sport to watch. Even in the earliest days of professionalism, it had an unobtrusive likeability. It filled otherwise miserable February afternoons, giving us a reason as kids to brave cold wet gardens and pretend to be fancy French centres like Jean Baptiste Lafonde!

But then, something changed. It was as if a cabal of powerful policymakers in this country — with sinister foresight — spotted a gap in our emotional make-up and knew exactly how to fill it. They would offer us a new community to be a part of, a new church to worship in.

It would require none of the burdensome rituals or familial responsibility the GAA imposed upon us, such as attending league matches with frozen toes on bleak Sunday afternoons. Nor would it require us to give up our loyalties to English soccer teams. There would be no conflict of interests.

Nope, Rugby 2.0 was to be a pleasurable experience. Nothing to feel guilty about. You work hard, you pay your taxes, you deserve a team to belong to. A Team of Us! What they were selling us was an experience that was no longer just going to the pub on a Friday night.

Instead, Rugby 2.0 offered them an alternative reality; Eamon was no longer hitting the town aimlessly with the boys, flooring eight pints and coming home. No, now he had a cause. An altar to worship at. A jersey to wear.

Sure, he could still floor the eight pints and stumble home, but now he had cause and justification. Eamon could even create a little backstory for himself; a promising schools career cut short by bad knee injury. Wicked sidestep. Deceptively slow.

Rugby 2.0 gave us a blank canvas to paint any way we wanted. It was an impossibly easy club to join, and the only catch was that we were never supposed to see behind the curtain. We were never to know what the wizard was up to.

And so, the mechanism to protect the integrity of this new church was created and refined; the exclusionary language of rugby was born. Commentators and contributors were trained as protectors of the realm. But only they. The rest of us were welcome as long as we never tried to understand it. This was the only way the relationship could last.

Those pulling the strings quickly understood the power of language — learning from medical consultants, bankers and self-help gurus that projecting confusing, convoluted messages was an ingenious way of establishing an intellectual class structure, and in so doing keeping them up there and the rest of us down here, assuming there was a mystery. Like Brexit. They use exclusionary language.

They build a vocabulary they own and control and entice people in, reassuring us with their expertise while patting us on the head, giving us two vouchers for Guinness Zero and sending us on our way. I have often wondered what the original of the species — the First Rugby People — thought of us invaders.

Those folk who were and still are members of clubs, for whom the game was not a choice but a birthright. How confused must they have been when we started appearing like the first pilgrims off the Mayflower. Do they resent us now?

Or, do they know somehow that this, like all fads, will eventually end. And when it does, they will get their game back — their simple, easily understood game. An oval shaped ball. Two sets of goal posts. The sky above, the field below.

Whatever. RWC 2019 is coming. Get your glossary of terms ready. And don’t forget the depth chart.

*not a real book (yet)

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