Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Egg-Chasing Time

The Sindo's Rugby correspondant, Brendan Fanning, took it upon himself to point out the blatantly obvious on Sunday - that Rugby has become an ugly and brutal sport. There are two things in life I don't like (actually there's loads, but these two stand out at the moment); one is bandwagons of all descriptions (sport, NIMBYism, TV shows, new-age shite, whatever) and the other is the glorification of violence; not cartoony violence of course - I'm not a complete spanner - but the sight of people taking satisfaction in or enjoying the infliction of pain.

When I was growing up I enjoyed the Ireland 5-Nations games. There was a sort of comedy haphazardness to the whole thing and, though I found the games themselves a bit boring (I don't recall a single incident from any game from the mid-80s to the mid-90s - bar a Trevor Ringland charge-down and try against England in Dublin and a Simon Geoghegan try in *Twickers* - from those ten years or so), the atmosphere around them made them a part of the sporting calendar to look forward to.

However, the start of my present aversion to Rugby coincided with the change to professionalism. I have nothing against professionalism as such, it just happened to be around the time I started college in Dublin and was first exposed to the Rugby crowd, specifically the Dublin rugby-playing private-school graduates and their associated hangers on. Such a bunch of tossers I don't think I ever came across in my life to that point.

Watching the rugger buggers 'n' huggers made me realise that, for many of them, the sport was more about being part of a social grouping - and not in a good way - than supporting a team. It was a Middle Class elitism, a way of being seen and being in with a particularly snobbish crowd that populated certain pubs and certain clubs.

Now there is a new breed of fans that have sprung up on the back of relative European Cup success. Munster rugby fans aren't as dislikeable as the Dublin rugger crowd, but the same herd/sheep mentality is at work. A bit like the Boys In Green, they fully believe their own hype that they are the "best fans in the world" because they can afford to go watch one of the biggest matches of the season in the south of France in the early Summer or because they pack out tiny-Thomond in Limerick three or four times a year (at least the boys in green turn-up to the more meaningless games and will actually travel to some dump like Tirana or Tbilisi). However, even by the admission of those who follow Munster but actually know what's going on, Munster play the most base of clinical styles of rugby.

As professionalism has taken hold in the game, the style of play has changed. Rugby was, to me anyway, a simple game, where a man picks up a ball and runs while trying to avoid being hauled down. Now it has become a game of attrition where every yard is fought over tooth and nail until one side or the other is penalised, allowing some punter to launch the ball over the bar, totally unimpeded, a mile from the actual try line. The only variation on this theme is to fight for a few yards until the point is reached that the same punter can kick the ball out of play in the corner so that there are now fewer yards to conquer. A sport that rewards booting the ball out of play, because it gives you an attacking advantage, is just ridiculous.

Worse, however, is the fact that the increasingly physical nature of the game (it was always a contact sport but, for me, it's now a collision sport) does not seem to put anyone off. I find the sight of two big men colliding at speed and turning their internal organs to mush pretty unattractive. To quote from Fanning's article: "Because we have developed rugby players into athletes, they get about the place faster. And because they are bigger we want to use that bulk. Combined with the narrow focus, it has made rugby a collision sport which often is not only difficult to watch - well, for some us - but unproductive for the team, and traumatic for the individual. Currently there is a morbid fascination with the force of the impact, and its results. It provides talking points, which in fact are selling points" (my italics). And that's my second point; instead of turning people off; people, men and women, seem to enjoy the spectacle of men getting pole-axed. They actually seem to get off on it.

Well I don't and, until the passing, expansive, tackle avoidance game is introduced I never will. And all of the above is nothing to do with the fact that I'm a League of Ireland fan and have a chip on my shoulder!...
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com Irish Blogs