What rugby means to me
"Rugby Union, a 15-a-side football game, which can also be played 7-a-side" says Microsoft (r) Encarta (r). But what does Bill Gates know about the finest game known to man? Stuff all, that's what.
This is what Encarta also says about Rugby Union: "Its name is an original attribution from the name of the school at Rugby, Warwickshire, England; and later in absolute use to denote the handling version of football" followed by "Points are scored in the following ways: (1) a try-scored by a player grounding the ball in his opponents' in-goal area (worth 5 points); (2) a goal-achieved by kicking the ball (by a place kick or drop kick) over the crossbar and between the uprights." and then later "There is also the drop goal, when the ball is kicked on the half volley in open play (worth 3 points)."
As I said, what does Bill Gates know about Rugby Union? Obviously not a lot - Rugby Union is far more than that... and less than that. As every true Englishman knows, half of what Bill has written above is tripe - what's all this "handling," and "a try"... and how come ".. the drop goal" is an also-ran?? As we Englishmen know only too well, it's the finest way to score points. Especially in injury time against Australia. But I digress.
So that's what Bill Gates says about Rugby Union. He also expands a little further on the topic, but I suggest you get Encarta if you want to more, 'cos I think Bill might sue me if I copy Encarta en bloc. And there's a nice picture of Iuean Evans. Not to mention Rory Underwood tackling some silly Australian. I'll bet the photographer had a wait a long time for that photo. (Rory Underwood tackling I mean, not a silly Australian).
So much for what Bill Gates has to say about Rugby. But who cares about Bill Gates? (Apart from Mrs. Gates, and Mr. Apple Mac?) Not many people, that's my guess. So, we'll forget all about him, and concentrate on me.
That's Mr. Diddams to you if you owe me money and need a favour, but there aren't too many people that fit that bill (approx. zero at last count), so we'll keep it at Didds. And this is what I think of Rugby Union (clears throat, settles into armchair, and gazes into middle distance...)
Is there a finer game, than Rugby Union? As I care to think Micky Steele-Bodger will say one day to Prince Obelenski, on that celestial playing field in the sky that is forever a deep, lush, green carpet of the finest grass ever grown in the cosmos, kept ever cut to a perfect length of one inch three-quarters, whilst discussing the complexities of double reverse scissors cut out pass moves... "Not chuffing lightly!"
Could there ever be a time to come when the finest hour a man could spend would not be spent queueing for a large Beaumont-Burger with Starmer-Smith Fries before taking his seat in the Duckham stand to witness another magnificent display of goal-kicking by the maestros of English outside-half play? Or alternatively, spent tying up one's sheep to the Toohey's rail outside of the Sydney Football Stadium, before winking at a pretty Sheila and downing fourteen cans of Foster's and throwing up at half-time during a Bledisloe Cup show-down? Or again, slapping the leathered thigh of a Gaucho whilst thrilling to the passionate tales of Hugo Porta and his Llamas?
I think not.
No, dear reader, Rugby Union has it all... the camaraderie, the machismo, the subtlety. Life encapsulated in an art form, and one so nobly demonstrated for example, by one no less esteemed than Colin "Old Spice" Smart. No other game raises one to such heights as can be achieved by a South African second-row in the rarified atmosphere of the high veldt during a lineout, or may plummet one to the deepest depths only understood, or maybe shared, by the like of the Pontypool Front Row, and Jamie Joseph. No other game allows a man the raptures and ecstasies of a Major Ronald Ferguson, or the depressions and troughs of a Tory Cabinet Minister. And no other game permits a chap eighty minutes of hard slog wheezing from one lineout to another, in order to get hopelessy and completely trashed on a mixture of "Old Contemptible's Bollock Smasher" (original gravity = infinity) and Kwik-Save Reserve Port (£2.85 - Do not open near naked flames).
But I am rambling. Please excuse the mutterings and thoughts of a mid-thirties, fat and useless prop-forward.
Rugby Union: The game that unites all classes, all creeds, all colours... just as long as you attended public school in England, played anywhere in Ulster, or grew up in South Africa. Or not. As the case may be. It's the game that offers a position and opportunity for those of all shapes, sizes and skills. Especially the overweight, lanky and downright useless that aren't able to play nancy games such as association football, tennis, or hang-gliding. And the game that offers such bonhomie, such genteelness, such grace. Who will forget that immortal, all-welcoming, hands-across-the-oceans, speaking-the-international-language-of-love, call by Willie John McBride of "99"? Or the delicate nature of Jonah Lomu leaving Mike Catt stranded? Or the gazelle like play of Wayde Dooley? None of us I am sure.
Which other game allows the spectator such intimate contact with its higher echelons? I would wager the average lager lout would stand as much chance of sharing a couple of lagers with Mr. Bert "FA" Millichip, as the average fourth team prop has of kicking a touch-line conversion. Not to mention the run-of-the-mill tennis fan in the street enjoying a quiet tete-a-tete and a bowl of strawberries and cream with John McEnroe. But in Rugby Union, this is all quite different. Ordinary supporters regularly jostle elbow to elbow with visiting committee men in the bar at Harlequins, or practise their drop-kicking skills around the streets of Edinburgh with John Jeffreys, or even have platonic relations with the England Captain. Or royalty. Or both. It is even known for ordinary, female supporters to pop over for a quick chat with the boys at half-time, and gee them up with a good look at their knockers.
Ah yes... the true leveler. No matter what background, what upbringing or what colour tie the Rugby Union supporter has, or has had, that supporter is one and the same under the all encompassing umbrella of Rugby Football Union. All are one, are united, a brotherhood as followers of Rugby Union around the world together. Equals in adversity, in triumph, in despair. All the same at, say, Twickenham on either the lowly occasion of London Counties "A" versus Morocco (West), or on the heady atmosphere of England versus Rest of the Universe (now including South Africa) - together sharing the momentous occasion with the gateman...."No cans. No bottles. What's in that bag, mate?"
And last but not least, the ability, via the auspices of Rugby Union, to make new friends and share experiences with other rugby supporters around the world. At some time or another I'm sure we have all enjoyed the laughs and friendship that supporting rugby can bring - meeting a Welshman who pissed in your pocket at the Arms Park, or kissing a French supporter on the cheek and suffering a nasty rash for a week. Not to mention welcoming that Kiwi backpacker you met at Wasps back home only for him to run off with your wife. And the Tongan fellows that ate your cat. Every one of them a top chap, everyone a complete and utter soulmate, sharing a love of the finest game man has ever devised, apart, maybe, from Blankety-Blank.
That's what Rugby Union is my friend. That's what it means to me.
And bugger Bill Gates.