It’s a boring yawn for some, and a tantalising thrill to others, but one way or another we’re stuck with it – a six-week tussle between around 450 jock-strapped brutes (some wearing training bras under their body-hugging bri-nylon tops), to determine who’s the best rugby team in the world.
Some girlfriends/wives/boyfriends are delighted that it only happens every fourth year (Olympics, leap year, cricket world cup) and one such lady is the divine Mitsy de la Cruz, a recent immigrant to our shores. She runs a Spanish Dance Clinic on her olive farm in Heaven’s Valley, and as a born and bred Mexican, grew up in a soccer-mad environment.
One evening in the pub at the Duck ’n Fiddle, she had some rather relevant queries about this unfathomable game called rugby, some of which we published in a column a few years ago…
For a start, she couldn’t fathom why people would use a ball with points at two ends. The bounce is unpredictable and can easily cause anxiety and frustration. This could lead to pushing and shoving – sometimes even an outburst of cussing.
However, when they eventually manage to control the ball and are actually playing a bit of rugby, the ref invariably blows his whistle to stop. To her, that shrill blast is a signal for everyone to start punching or wrestling with anyone within arms’ length.
She’s absolutely fine with this, but can’t they perhaps separate these two elements – playing and punching – and allow fighting only when the game stops, like for penalty kicks or injuries? Those not fighting can relax and quaff down a quick frosty on the sideline if it’s hot.
Punchers and quaffers, she suggests, should rotate to avoid excessive drunkenness. Throwing in at line-outs are a mess, and her advice is for the jumpers to stand still, so the thrower doesn’t keep missing them so much. Scrums, she reckons, collapse four out of five times, and she can’t understand why they persist with them. Also, players should be allowed to abuse the ref with more flair and enthusiasm – like they do in soccer.
Well, we know who won’t have one eye on the TV during her tango lessons, but many of us can look forward to grinding through all twenty national anthems at least four times each. Some are quite stirring and get the juices pumping, while others can be musically turgid.
One has such a long introduction, it’s impossible to know when to join in for the last twenty-second burst of hysterical vocals. With respect to our Argentinean readers, we won’t mention the country. Spain’s national anthem has no lyrics at all, so they weren’t invited.
Only about half of the games are worth watching though. The standard punch-ups between the bigger unions, like NZ, Oz, Ireland, England and us, are usually great entertainment, whoever wins.
Next tier down: France, Argentina, Wales, USA, and maybe Scotland and Italy, all have the potential to beat any of the top five on the day. The bottom end of the table could get a bit messy despite their best efforts. Few folks will postpone a lunch date to watch Russia against the mighty Georgia, but the Pacific Islanders – Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – are always full of bone-crunching, festival rugby. Jonah Lomu was once compared to “tackling a billiard table at 50 miles per hour”.
But the most remarkable team in the tournament must be the TV commentators. They have to be familiar with, and pronounce the names of all 30 players – plus the 16 substitutes – at high speed throughout every game. OK, they have team sheets for reference, but the printed word in its mother tongue doesn’t necessarily help the English pronunciation at all.
Georgia vs Tonga or Fiji must be quite a challenge. Try wrapping your gums around these names – at speed: Halanukonuka, Abzhandadze, Halaifonua, Gogichashili and Waqaniburotu. Not easy, when the game’s moving quickly – even for the commentators, who must hope the Tongan, Fukofuka never gets near the ball.