LARRY RYAN: Rugby the people’s choice but what is the women's game?

Rugby the people’s choice but what is the women’s game?

Everything we stand for is on the line at Lansdowne Road today, as our brave boys take on the Scots at the newly anointed ‘People’s Game’.

A nation’s heart will beat faster at scrum-time this afternoon. It is in the national interest that we win back the Centenary Quaich.

At least that is what they told us on RTÉ’s Against The Head this week, as they explored how rugby “has caught the wave”.

It wasn’t entirely clear whether this was a celebratory occasion or a crisis meeting in Montrose. After all, the forefathers of Rugby Country put in a lot of hard yards building a social structure to keep the people at arm’s length.

But it seems the relentless war of attrition by media and marketing forces has brought about a revolution and handed Rugby Country over to its subjects.

And now, RTÉ tells us, the rugby crowd are “the new Jack’s Army”, probably buying their inflatable shamrocks in Brown Thomas at 60 notes a pop.

The people, even in Cork, would rather find touch than Nemo.

There are one or two asterisks. If we want to actually play the People’s Game, for the people, we might still need to fork out a few grand a term, going to school, to have much of a shout. Not that it would be any bother to us, because isn’t everyone middle class now, suggested Against The Head host Daire O’Brien.

As it happens, though, we aren’t all that pushed about playing the game.

“This is not a minority sport… maybe in terms of participation,” accepted Daire the other night.

“Not necessarily going to games” either, noted Eddie O’Sullivan.

But the people want their say alright.

“There are people who wouldn’t have an opinion on an All-Ireland hurling or football final or a soccer international, but they will have an opinion on and be engaged with this, it’s absolutely throughout society,” Daire insisted, to resounding agreement in his echo chamber.

The people have fallen for rugby without ever picking up a rugby ball.

Armed only with the certainty that you must roll away at a ruck, or maybe a maul, and something about the hindmost foot, the people mightn’t have much idea about what’s happening on the field. While the soccer lads have already grown wildly agitated with the video refs, wasting their time, the rugby crowd love going upstairs for a small break from the rooting and where they might be given some clue what’s going on.

They mightn’t know why he has blown his whistle but they know enough to recognise Nigel Owens is one of the northern hemisphere’s funniest comedians and they know this is not soccer.

They know mankind’s boundaries of bravery and intensity are being tested. So the people are invested. And a little bit of blind faith is not much to ask of a people whose game used to be buying Bulgarian flats off the plans.

There may be some implications for the health of the nation, going forward, that hardly anybody plays the People’s Game.

However, the consequences would be much graver if they were all playing it, maiming one another. The people’s health service would likely buckle under the strain. So we must be thankful for small mercies.

Even with that much decided early in the week, that rugby is where it’s at now, we were able to detect some life in other sports, too, judging by the debate, amusement, and angst Against The Head generated.

In sharp contrast, International Women’s Day passed disappointingly tamely, with no such battlelines drawn.

They are still making the same old mistakes, the ladies, talking about ‘women’s sport’ as if they are all in it together, trying to lift all boats at the same time. Seeing the good in everyone.

If we have learned anything by now, it is that there cannot be progress without petty squabbling, childish sniping, and tearing one another down.

There were signs this week some of them are beginning to see the error of their ways.

Elaine Buckley of the Fair Game podcast has detected some flaws in the socialist approach, tweeting: “At what point will we retire the ‘let’s have a conversation about EVERY issue in women’s sport crammed into a five-minute item’ media approach? It’s beyond pointless.”

Hopefully, it’s the start of the turf war women’s sport needs. Forget sisterhood and fight your corner.

The rugby girls need to woman up, remind us theirs are the noble warriors, battling in the trenches for the nation’s honour. Soccer can counter by noting their game incorporates skill.

There are hearts and minds at stake and the ladies footballers look well placed. They have Cora and all the Cork and Dublin women people recognise, and thousands of nippers at academies every Saturday. They need to turn the screw while they’re in the box seat.

The basketballers have numbers too, but the camogie crowd also have a trump card. They have slipped an agent through the net. Into the inner circle of celebrity. The corridors of influence. They must use Anna Geary wisely and Anna must not carry this great responsibility lightly.

Because the day will soon dawn when we have to choose The Women’s Game.

And even then, there will be no time to rest on their laurels. The battle never ends. After all, by the middle of next week, horse racing will be the people’s game.


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