No sign of hyperbole stocks depleting here

The best 40 minutes rugby we have seen in years upon years

It is taken for granted, nowadays, that every rugby international brings us 80 minutes or so closer to a complete understanding of the human condition.

And once George Hook has had his say, there’s the match itself, edging us closer again.

On these pivotal afternoons in our evolution, we will see things we shouldn’t see, that nobody should see, but we will emerge knowing, at the very least, more about the limits of what mankind can achieve and about his endurance in adversity.

And more about the softness of mankind’s hands.

In this troubled country, which we now know as Rugby Country, these are the only real certainties.

When it was all over on Saturday, George presented the latest findings: “What makes rugby the greatest game played on earth is that, unlike Gaelic football or soccer or hockey or American football, at the end of it, it relies on the courage, character and commitment of men.”

Conor O’Shea nodded sagely, as he only nods, and paid his own solemn tribute to “the human spirit”.

Earlier on, Tom McGurk had teed this one up as a meeting of minds, not any old minds obviously:

“Michael Cheika meets Joe Schmidt. Who will be Socrates and who will be Plato?”

It wasn’t evident which of the two lads, Socrates or Plato, he considered to have had a more useful outlook on things at ruck-time, scrum-time, or breakdown-time.

But I guess we will know more after the World Cup, where they are bound to encounter Aristotle.

The match? A bit like rush hour, suggested Ryle Nugent, of the first half. “All one way early on, all the other way later on.”

“The best 40 minutes rugby we have seen in years upon years,” reckoned McGurk, no sign of his hyperbole stocks depleting.

“Almost the perfect test match,” declared O’Shea, when it finished up, 40 minutes later, after not much else had happened. “It would have been Barbarianesque if it had carried on like the first half.”

“They asked every question and Ireland found the answers,” cheered Ryle.

Not every question. McGurk had a long list of searching existential questions to get through.

“Where does defence come from?”

“The human heart,” confirmed O’Shea.

“Are we going somewhere in rugby we’ve never been before?”

“There are lots of places we need to go, like a World Cup semi-final,” decided George.

“Why did you blow up in 2007?” worried Tom.

That was for Shane Horgan, who tried to tease out some of the remaining gaps in our understanding.

“It’s one of the unending mysteries. Possibly we were too focused. Didn’t enjoy our time there. Didn’t see the bigger world more than rugby.”

A world bigger than rugby?

What would Socrates and Plato have made of it? We know they were rugby men at heart, since the pair shared a disregard, scorn even, for the conventions of early language.

It was just another Saturday on that front: honey-potting the rucks, setting up beachheads, beasting into speed bumps.

We remember, too, what happened when Plato and Socrates linked up in Monty Python’s epic football match between the Greek and German philosophers. Actually, not much happened, other than a bunch of deep thinkers strolling about, rubbing their chins.

Rugby often looks a bit like that now, with long stretches spent standing around, waiting for a fella to watch television and make a decision.

“How many times can we look at the same thing?” tutted Ryle, convinced Bernard Foley’s try was no such thing.

It was grand, as Horgan proved at half-time, with yet another look. Rugby will eventually test the very limits of mankind’s patience too.

Of course, rugby men will point to the late controversy in that game between the Greeks and the Germans, when Socrates stooped to head the winner, from Archimedes’s cross.

Replays showed he’d clearly done so from an offside position, but the goal stood.

As rugby strives to elevate us to a higher plane of understanding, it has evolved beyond those kind of gauche mistakes.

At least if we, like the Greek lads, are prepared to consider things deeply enough from every angle.


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