Rugby Country takes on culture of its own

Something suspicious is happening. Very suspicious, says Larry Ryan.

I’ll try not to mention it every week, but I’m still laid up with the arm. So there have been a few taxi spins.

Still accepted as the most accurate means of assessing the priorities of the nation.

“Did you see the match?” That is the official opening gambit of the day, like many other days.

But it isn’t Cork over in Páirc Uí Rinn they mean. Nor United or Liverpool.

The match.

I don’t think we need to call in the lads from RedC on this case.

We probably have enough data here to safely conclude that, without any kind of referendum being passed, we are now living in Rugby Country alright. For a few weeks anyway.

Luckily, for strangers in this conquered land, visa requirements are modest.

“Yeah, yeah, Sexton, great bit of stuff.”

“Savage hits. Yeah. The size of these guys...”

“Need more at the offload.”

“I wouldn’t worry about so-and-so or such-and-such, Schmidt will devise a gameplan.”

That’s usually good enough to take things as far as ‘what did you do to the arm anyway’ and onto a root and branch analysis of the health service.

You do what you can to get by. Hard yards and miles.

In the end, what can you do but admire it?

The relentless war of attrition by media and commercial forces that has finally annexed the land.

Any week now, you’ll queue up with the last few stragglers and get your papers stamped. Organise a truck and trailer license.

But hold on a minute. Something suspicious.

Just as they have established unshakeable go-forward momentum, the original rugby crowd have more or less decided that we are all looking at a desperate spectacle altogether.

Overnight, the theory is out there that we are dealing with a crude, downright dangerous business with no more than a few years left in it as any kind of going concern.

Hands are wringing over these joyless Six Nations struggles of grunt and groan, bereft of opportunities for skill or expression.

A grim collision of man mountains, stuffed to the gills with whey, displacing tectonic plates as they ram into one another’s ‘channels’ on the demand of a dull playbook, until the referee blows a whistle for an offence nobody understands.

A barbaric bore.

And this is the disciples talking. Which begs, for starters, one obvious question: What were they seeing all along?

Naturally, even as the scales fall from their eyes, it’s still made abundantly clear that the moral pedigree of participants is not in doubt.

“What rugby is all about,” tweeted the Leinster supporters club during the week when Jamie Heaslip accepted Pascal Pape’s apology for breaking his back.

As Nigel Owens likes to put it, this is not soccer, where they take back-breaking personally enough.

Yet, the rugby crowd are trying to put people off it, all of a sudden.

Maybe there is a touch of the indie-band-goes-mainstream phenomenon. “I prefer their early stuff.” Though it’s not an easy metaphor to land; the indie kids and the rugby crowd.

Or maybe there’s something else at play.

We are dealing here with an arena where will to win is measured in a readiness to have your lights switched off every few weeks. These lads will definitely go the extra mile.

We have seen other impressive examples of will-to-win lately, notably in the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups, where exhaustive and imaginative efforts to recruit top, top players to various third-level courses is matched by exhaustive investigative efforts to invalidate their recruitment to these courses.

But the kind of will-to-win that earns you a five-hour Central Appeals Committee hearing is insignificant alongside the will-to-win that has made schools rugby great.

Before any winning could be done, these people first had to organise an entire social structure.

As part of the citizenship application process for Rugby Country, I noted that Blackrock College were overturned by Roscrea in the Leinster Schools Cup the other week.

The scene, as the Irish Times described: “...thick country accent rising into the Donnybrook rafters as, this time, finally, Roscrea refuse to be held to ransom by the pillars of history and tradition.”

When pillars of history and tradition start to fall, people tend to get a little uneasy about the way things are going.

Might we be seeing tentative early advances to take back Rugby Country?

DoesPoyet want the sack? 

There is an intriguing dance going on at Sunderland at the moment, where Gus Poyet appears to be doing all he can to get sacked, while trying to put the impression out there he doesn’t want to be sacked.

Gus has been working hard lately to get the fans offside. Jibes about ‘living in the past’ here, an understrength FA Cup team there. Important groundwork ahead of the sack.

The next dance step in this complex routine came this week via that trusty device, the open letter; as usual a letter drafted for the attention of anyone but the addressed recipients.

“I invite you all to stay positive, to be strong, closer to each other and keep believing in what we started together last year,” Gus wrote, inviting the media and would-be employers to recall that decent spell last season once he is soon driven out by these ungrateful backwoodsmen.

"All of this maneuvering gets to the heart of the most important skill in management: the knack of getting the heave-ho at the right time, so you’re not thrown off the merry-go-round entirely.

The ability to get sacked before you can conclusively prove that you deserve to be sacked.

Paul Lambert, notably, couldn’t pull off this delicate routine at Villa, in a failure which may prove detrimental to his future employment prospects.

It was no surprise to hear Lambert, apparently, twice asked Randy Lerner to sack him before the axe finally fell at the worst possible time, soon after 11 hours without a goal — never the first thing you want brought up at a job interview.

Roy Keane, on the other hand, got out in time at Sunderland, though it took some cross words on the phone with Ellas Short.

After the letter, that might be the next move for Gus too.

HEROES & VILLAINS 

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Ciarán Ó Lionáird: An interesting chat inside on page 13. As always, you get total honesty, and this time Ciarán probably delivered the most fundamental truth of all: “I don’t think I would be running if I wasn’t competing. I would probably be playing five-a-side soccer or something.” Wouldn’t we all?

HELL IN A HANDCART

Sky marketing department: “What channel is the cricket on?” “Sky Sports World Cup?” “Yeah, what channel is that?” “Sky Sports 2.” “402?” “No, 403 now.” “Thanks!”

Darren Clarke: What’s this guy doing? Has he appointed a single vice-captain yet? Those blue and yellow fish won’t organise themselves.

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