HAVE you been following the Women’s Rugby World Cup? It seems a simple enough enquiry, doesn’t it, that I punted at half-a-dozen or more of my laddish, sports-mad, acquaintances in the past week.
To a man, the response has been the same. A pause, a slight nervousness, a calculation about whether they will be trapped by their answer, as if I had posed that famous lawyer’s trick question: “have you stopped beating your wife?”
Of course, being liberal, modern, thinkers, some of them with a dash of the metrosexual, they know what they should say... “all part of the community of sport... surprisingly high standards of play... been impressed how quick they are to the loose ball... seem to have mastered the second phase.”
But a slight rolling of the eyes, a glazed look, and body language betrays them. What they’re really thinking is something more akin to Dr Johnson’s famous adage on the subject of women preaching. When taxed on the subject the old curmudgeon said: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Only one, after some skillful cross-examination, was prepared to reach into his id for the truth — “life’s too short for me to spend it on women’s rugby.”
Which is a shame, given that there are two cracking semi-finals coming up today, and also because of the general rule that, irrespective of what the sport is, if you are prepared to immerse yourself in it, and its sub-plots, for a while, then that investment is usually repaid. That may not be true consistently of, say, synchronised swimming but by way of comparison women’s beach volleyball is usually rich in compensation.
New Zealand’s rugby team, the Black Ferns, is a formidable unit and has the novelty of being considerably more successful in World Cups than their male counterparts. While the All Blacks have only lifted the trophy once — the 1987 victory over France on home soil at Eden Park with the team of John Kirwan, Sean Fitzpatrick and Grant Fox — the ladies are looking for a fourth successive triumph.
Watching legendary and baleful All Black forwards such as Colin “Pine Tree” Meads and mad, bad Keith Murdoch in action left the impression that training for them consisted of jogging around the sheep farms of Otago and Canterbury with a ram tucked under each arm fortified only by a hunk of dry bread and a slice of cheese washed down by some mountain spring water.
But the Black Ferns (the age range of their team stretches between 19 and 45) have their own equivalent in 24-year-old Ruth McKay who packs at loose head. She runs a sheep station an hour from nowhere and attributes her considerable physical strength to life in the great outdoors.
“I get in there and do the dirty work and let the backs show up,” she says. Just like any other prop in fact.
They’ve even got their own ceremonial version of the Haka. They are not allowed to perform the throat-slitting action because it is deemed by Maori elders as unsuitable for women. But they can go big on the pukana — that’s the eye-popping wild stare routine designed to strike fear into opponents. And as far as I can find out there’s no injunction against spear tackles either.
France, another team with some big forwards, are lined up against them tonight while England face Australia which could set up a final between New Zealand and the last team to beat them, England, on Sunday. It will be a far cry from one of the recent hits of YouTube — the University of California, Los Angeles women’s rugby team playing a match in Prom dresses (scrum caps an optional extra). (The voyeurs among you can find that online: bit.ly/9GB9YI.)
I did a different kind of poll involving women and rugby this week when, sharing a drink with a group of young medics, I asked them whether they thought Dr Wendy Chapman, the doctor at the centre of the Harlequins “Bloodgate” scandal should have been struck off for cutting the lip of Tom Williams to cover up a bogus injury.
Their opinion was divided (some favoured a further limited suspension by the General Medical Council). I was less equivocal. This doctor has already spent most of a year banned from practice and is recovering from surgery from breast cancer.
She made an error of judgment, under pressure, and it appears, under protest. She caused a small and inconsequential wound at the demand of her patient and his employers. She was operating on the match day against Leinster in a sphere of the medical industry which mainstream doctors frequently refer to as “the Dark Arts.”
Dr Chapman is no threat to the general public and has treated thousands of patients without reproach. She has lost her chance to contribute to the 2012 Olympics, as well as her income since the case broke. That is enough, as the GMC decided yesterday.
The world is not so full of experienced doctors that their contribution and expertise and the investment in their skills can be thrown aside because of a minor piece of skullduggery in a rugby match.
That wouldn’t have been justice. It would have been vengeance.
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