Friday, February 4, 2011

Fortuitous Friday: Rugby is Pwnage

There are very, very few things entertainment wise on this earth that I like more than games. Rugby, or more specifically, The Six Nations Rugby tournament held every year between Wales, England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Ireland is one of those things. It is the only sporting event that I look forward to all year and I'm pretty sure that putting that in print may be grounds for cancellation of my Canadian citizenship. I do watch NHL playoff hockey every year, and if any Canadian teams make it to the Stanley Cup, I watch that as well. There is a clear hierarchy in my hockey watching/cheering, and once my beloved Habs are out, I will follow and cheer for any Canadian team. Once the Canadians are out (which happens all too frequently nowadays, thank you very much for destroying our National Sport Mr. Bettman) I stop watching.

It's not that I'm anti-American- most of the lads playing are from Canada anyway (well the good ones in any case, wink, wink) it's just, well.....I don't know- maybe I'm anti-NHL-in-hot-places. Who knows? It's about national pride, I guess, and I don't feel that hockey is American's cup of tea, as it were. But then neither is tea given the whole Boston Tea Party thing.

Throw them over lads! If we throw enough of these stupid ice-skates into the harbor Bettman will clue in that we don't like hockey in Boston- send them to Phoenix.

When you grow up playing, and watching a game, and I mean The Game (as hockey is all we lay claim too - and lacrosse o course) you come to feel like it's yours, I guess. Hockey is all I had growing up. There were a smattering of other sports, of course, and we played them all, but Hockey? It's what we played, if that makes sense. I started skating when I was three years old. I played in the rinks, on ponds, on frozen streets, and in the summer? Street hockey- Get in! Some of my earliest memories are of listening to the Montreal Canadiens games on the French Canadian radio channel, and I don't even speak french!

Go Habs!

Maybe I'm a hockey snob. I realize that there are American's who grow up on cold places, and their communities also revolve around hockey, but I don't care! It's our game, go away...or succeed and join us! All kidding aside, I do think that some countries collectively get behind a sport better than others. When I lived in the United States I had the chance to go to some baseball games- both professional and amateur, and I have to say, you guys do baseball right! I had watched baseball for a lot of years on television, which culminated in the Blue Jays winning the world series. Canada as a nation got behind that and celebrated, but baseball mania eventually ebbed. We may like it, but I don't think we'll ever understand it like the Americans do. Seeing the way it brings the community together and experiencing it first hand is one my fondest memories from living there.

In Ireland the name of the national game is Hurling, and if it was possible for me to watch it here I'd follow that as religiously as I do The Six Nations. It is a lot like lacrosse (which is our other official sport) and very fast (like hockey) so I took to it right away. When my county, Waterford, is playing I can manage to find the re-broadcasts on the radio but the lads will often slip in to Irish while commentating and then I'll not have a clue as to what the hell is going on. When I lived there you'd know the names of the lads on your team (as they had to live locally to play for the county). Many of them you'd see on a daily basis. That's the beauty of Hurling. It's all amateur- no one gets paid a dime for playing and when the match is done it's back to the daily grind. It was sometimes a little strange watching the star of the team on the tele playing for the county in a huge match, with 80,000 in attendance, and then see him working in the butcher on Monday:

'Great game yesterday, Seamus!'
'Ah, right, thanks, so.'
'That was an incredible goal you made! Now can I have a pound of mince, please?'

I think I've now sufficiently wandered away from the original topic of the post to slap myself back on track: Rugby, here we go!

When I emigrated to Europe (and yes, I count Ireland as Europe) I had a hard time fitting in with 'the lads' when it came to sports. I'm not a huge sports guy, but at the very least, in Canada, you can fake it with some hockey talk. I may not be current with the star players and the hot teams but I can talk a load of hockey-related bollocks based on the nature, or history of the game. It's one of the bonding techniques we use as men when we're in a large group of strangers- find common ground, quick!

I tried watching football (soccer to any North Americans in the crowd) but I absolutely hated it. I'd rather take my own eye out with a splintered, wooden spoon than watch football. It could be, again, a product of not growing up with it, but I maintain it's just boring as hell. OMG it's a cracker! 0-0! Who would 'a thought? ZOMG, it was brilliant! Spare me, please. If I'm going to watch pampered, whiny, knackers play a boring game for millions of Euro, there had better be some fights, or at the very least, no diving. Could we try that, just for a bit, could we, huh? No diving? For 250k per week you can stand up, I'm pretty sure.

I did try, honestly. I even adopted a team (go Spurs!) but it was not to be. Rugby, however, I took to immediately. Now that is a class game played by some true athletes:

"Rugby is a beastly game played by gentlemen;
soccer is a gentleman's game played by beasts."
- Henry Blaha

I adopted Wales from the start as She Who Is To Be Named Later is Welsh, and supports the Wales team. Although I love Ireland, I loathe the Irish rugby team (long story which we'd best skip). The first year I watched Wales managed the Grand Slam, which is to say, they beat everyone in the tournament. It is, for the uninitiated, not guaranteed that the tournament winner will also get the grand slam. It's not easy winning every game but you can still be the overall victor through points. Anyway, if you know rugby I'm wasting my breath, and if you don't, chances are you don't care all that much anyway.

The Six Nations starts today, and if you're reading this from across the pond, chances are you may have already seen today's game: Wales vs. England in Millennium Stadium. Playing the English on home ground is always a source of pride for the Welsh....and the Scots....and the Irish......Everyone loves to hate the English, I found. I do understand the historic rivalries and bitterness that build up over the years, really I do, but as an outsider I could always play the devils advocate (or the Cultural Troll if you'd like it in gaming terms): Oh yes, indeed, those bastard English! How dare they come into your country and bring with them modernization, and roads, and railways to promote your industry! Why they're almost as bad as those bastard Romans with their writing, and sewers, and baths, and laws, and libraries, and what's this? Medicine? Keep it away! Quick, everyone back to their mud huts before they force us to have better lives!

I will be watching the match  later on BBC iPlayer so this post will be scheduled ahead of time and I will avoid the internet all day just in case I see a score, or someone emails me the results. If I was still in Edinburgh I'd ditch work early, take my dog for a walk on the beach, and head to my local (God bless the UK for allowing dogs in pubs) where I'd ensconce myself in the back room with pints of Fine Fettle (if available that day) until the match started. At least I'd know everyone there would be cheering against the English, which is almost as good as being in room full of people cheering for my team.

One of the best Real Ales I have ever tried.
If you have any love in your heart, any at all, and you have access to this,
you'll find a way to send me a pint.

Injuries, retirements, and suspensions have hurt us this year. After a dismal showing in the past few months I don't have a lot of hope, but if there is one thing the Welsh team is good for is a surprise so I'll remain 'Cautiously Optimistic'


  1. Wales?? Oh dear. What's the story with the Irish rugby team? Being half-English half-Irish I support both of 'em, which is tricky during the England vs Ireland game, though the tie-breaker is then whichever team has the most London Irish players in it...

  2. Oooh...that's a touchy topic: London Irish, arguably, wouldn't be eligible for the Irish team, being that they aren't Irish......

    The story is a simple, really. The Irish team is made up mostly of players from Leinster, that is to say, Dublin, and I found Dublin-Irish to be different from Irish-Irish. Many of the players have attended particular schools and carry certain...attitudes....I didn't much like or find to be consistent with the rest of the Irish people.

    What I'm trying to say, nicely, is that the team is chalk full of Dublin ponces who think they are better than everyone else.

  3. Ah, the Leinster ladyboys, yeah bit of a class divide with a lot of the dubs. Sure n' the forwards have mostly been good Cork and Limerick lads from Munster, though; bit of a similar divide in England with rugby seen as a posh game in the south east, but more rural in the south west and midlands, though a lot of the divide has gone away with professionalism.

  4. Yes, a lot of the forwards have been good Cork boys. The last time I was at the Cork train station I saw the Irish team. Unfortunately O'Driscoll is the only one I can remember :(