The Plastic Hippo

November 1, 2015


Filed under: Sport — theplastichippo @ 10:00 pm
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Image via EPA

Image via EPA

There are a lot of things in Rugby Union that can make you cry. Defeat perhaps and certainly the pain of being flattened by eight or nine huge blokes reeking of testosterone and bitter at being rejected as extras in a Lord of the Rings film because they were considered to be too ugly as Orcs are only two such reasons. Mercifully, my Saturday afternoons of violence masquerading as sport and Saturday nights explaining bite marks, lacerations to the back and the thighs and the odd facial stud impression to a sceptical partner belong to the days when James Callaghan was Prime Minister. In these more sedentary times, Rugby Union is definitely a game to be watched rather than played.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup has been a joy to behold from the safety of a television screen protected by numerous packs of beer and a variety of corn and potato based snacks. Six weeks of glorious brutality and fervent flag-waving nationalism might, in a better world, provide a meaningful alternative to actual wars. Sadly, the centuries of colonialism and plunder has resulted in 30 antipodean hooligans being much better at knocking lumps out of each other than the collective might of the northern hemisphere and it is probably more than coincidence that Argentina has developed into a global power over the last 30 or so years. It`s too late for a task force and it`s a shame Rugby didn`t catch on in the Middle East. A few Rugby referees would sort things out and my second favourite moment of the competition was a laconic Welsh ref saying to one huge brute;
“Stop swearing…you`re on the telly.”

England`s failure to progress beyond the group stage certainly reduced many people to tears with some devotees of the game suggesting that with England gone, the entire competition had become a waste of time and a waste of money. More pragmatic armchair prop forwards abandoned national identity and suddenly remembered a distant aunt that retired to Colwyn Bay followed by a hazy recollection of coach tour of Scottish distilleries and then a whimsical nostalgia of when Terry Wogan was on the radio. Unfortunately, the allegiance shifting did not last long and as the home nations fell to the southern hemisphere, British and Irish Rugby roared like lions their outrage at a single refereeing error and united in a loathing of all things Wallaby. Suddenly, we were all fans of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the wonderful CGI scenery in the aforementioned Lord of the Rings.

Trying to explain the complexities of tribal loyalty to a sceptical partner proved to be as difficult as explaining a ruck, a maul and offside. After all, to the untutored eye, a fighting mob is just a fighting mob. During one game, she asked:
“How come he got three points for a penalty when he kicked to ball over the crossbar and there wasn`t even a goalkeeper?”
By the end of the tournament, her interest in Richie McCaw`s thighs had become almost obsessive.

For all the hype, misplaced optimism and raucous patriotic chest beating, it was a dead certainty that New Zealand would retain the Webb Ellis trophy because they are simply the best Rugby team in the world and are probably the best side ever to play on this or any other planet. They have everything required of a Rugby team; brute force, skill, tactics, courage and idiocy in equal measure and the ability remain just inside the rules for most of the 80 minutes. They are also blessed to have within their ranks the officially coolest man on earth.

Sonny Bill Williams is not a Mississippi Delta bluesman. He is instead a very tall, very powerful elite Rugby player, a professional heavyweight boxer and, according to the sceptical partner, even more good looking than Richie McCaw. Some viewers might have shed a tear during the emotional singing of national anthems or joined with weeping at the desolation of defeat. Others, like me, remained unmoved. But this grown man had a trembling lip and something in my eyes after the final whistle had been blown.

The story of the excited kid, the over-zealous security steward and the winners` medal is now part of history. To be fair to the steward, after six weeks of watching Rugby from the sidelines, his tackle was a rather good one and probably attracted the attention of England selectors. Okay the kid was half his size but was fast and the steward had quick feet for a big bloke. I recalled the team talk from my pack leader before every game during my playing days.
“I don`t care if they are the All Blacks; they can`t run when they`ve got no legs.”

It is always a dangerous game to predict the future so here are some predictions. New Zealand will win the next world cup, the kid will sell the medal to fund his education and coaching and will one day play for New Zealand. The unknown steward and the unfortunate Craig Joubert, who both made a mistake in trying do their jobs properly, will receive threats from internet idiots who have never picked up a Rugby ball much less faced the Haka or the All Black front row.

Finally, Sonny Bill Williams will be the next James Bond.

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