The Rugby World Cup

Rugby journalism is the art of the blindly obsessed interviewing the mutely inarticulate about the completely unknowable yet paradoxically: the completely predictable. Someone will win the game. Someone will lose. Everyone will agonise over it during and after and come to the conclusion that rugby was the ultimate winner on the day and that it was, invariably, a game of two halves. Seriously. How many halves are there ever going to be, to be a whole game?

Along with such deviancies as secretly liking Australia and loathing meat pies I have to also confess to just not getting rugby. It’s ok if Sonny is getting his gear off or there are Latins to look at, but the idea of watching big guys with no necks and an alien where their ear used to be just doesn’t do it.

Hours can be spent watching three-day horse events or polo. There are the pretty horses; but rugby occupies the same mental space as Sufi whirling dervishes or Finnish stick walloping nudists. I’m a foreign anthropologist witnessing a rare and incomprehensible ritual without language or any knowledge of the rules every time I watch a rugby game. But this is world cup and I know the risks . I may be banished to some remote kingdom and have to spend years in exile eating hokey pokey ice-cream and remembering random cricket scores in order to prove my worthiness to re-enter the realms of kiwidom. Which is why we, the ignorant and feckless individuals who do not care enough to understand rugby, need commentators and journalists so that we can absorb their views and pretend that we belong.

The promos for 3 news has one rugby boffin sniffing the seats at Eden Park and telling of the joy of the patter of “little spiked feet trotting out of the change rooms, the smell of horse liniment. Strong. Deep.” Sounds like gay porn with cowboys – I could get this so wrong so decide not to borrow from that source. Searching the channels I scout opinions from the players themselves; ‘I think the other team played very well, but we played to our strengths and we came through.” Well you’re not going to play to your weaknesses are you? Although that could be entertaining, I have yet to see a player play dead on the field and then when everyone’s got the ambulances running, suddenly jump and make a run for the try line. And, came through what exactly? The storm? The war? What is the metaphor they’re getting at that I’m missing?

I know I will be tested after the Argentine/Scottish game. I take notes so I’ll be prepared. Cantenponi says that they must win to stay alive. This might be true if this were soccer in Argentina. It’s not unknown for soccer stars to be shot by disgruntled fans for some mistake but the Wellington crowd looks harmless enough. I listen to the commentators trade notes on the ‘teeth crunching – botty squeaking excitement”, of it all. Cantenponi converts!! Yay!!! I think, but to what? Buddhism? Suddenly I catch a glimpse of a parade of my Pakeha uncles, brother and Dad – they are wearing Scottish tartan hats but they’re shouting for Argentina. I can’t see the mad Latin anywhere. The commentators are babbling; ‘The Argentines are shouting and singing, as they do.” The mad Latin rings, he’s chanting: “ He who’s not jumping is a big fatty!” There are 2 thousand others chanting with him. ‘What are you doing?” I ask. “I’m jumping – obviously.” He shouts. ‘How come you’re not with the others?” ‘I got kicked out for jumping and singing. I couldn’t sit still any longer I can’t ‘do’ pakeha – so I’m up with the jumping hooligans. Also – your uncles have memorised rude phrases in Spanish and are shouting them at people.” “Female genitalia of your sister’s parrot, being one of them?” “Yes! How did you know?! I have to go – We have to jump!” I do a quick check: Nope. Teeth uncrunched. Botty not squeaking. Still don’t get it.

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