Misinformed, angry, coffee-addled ranting.
It’s February. We’re cold. We’re poor. Fergie’s got a new song out. Everything’s a little bit shit. Fortunately for all of us, tonight something wicked this way comes to rid us temporarily from our misery and give us something to shout about. Here I’m using the word “wicked” in its modern day, youthful sense to mean “exciting” or “well good, innit”. Admittedly, despite my attempts to seem “down with the kids” the word wicked seems to have been left squarely in the 90s along with “radical” and “that Tony Blair fella seems alright doesn’t he?”.
But regardless of my struggles to keep up with the vernacular of the street, I’m excited. Tonight marks the start of the most important, intense and downright radical annual sporting contest since they cancelled Gladiators. It’s time for the Six Nations.
For those not in the know, the Six Nations is a rugby union tournament held every February(ish), pitting the national sides of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy against each other in order to determine just which country has the best 15 posh juggernauts with missing teeth.
Rugby is a notoriously brutal sport. It features two teams of some of the biggest, strongest, quickest athletes in the world charging headlong into each other non-stop for 80 minutes, and woe betide anyone who dares give anything less than 110% for the entire match. Filled with more macho bravado than Jason Statham bench pressing a live bear whilst on fire, rugby players have a particular hatred for stopping play for any reason. It’s not uncommon to see players pop their own dislocated shoulders back in in order to carry on playing. Recent Rugby Union convert Sam Burgess completed almost the entirety of the NRL Grand Final with a fractured eye socket and cheekbone in a Man-of-the-match winning performance.
And of course, there’s the story of Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, enough to make even the hardiest of souls wince and clutch a pillow to their intimate areas. After only 20 minutes of a match, Shelford took a boot to his gentleman’s agreements, tearing his scrotum and leaving a testicle dangling out. Rather than doing what any normal human would do and assume the foetal position, whimpering in agony, Shelford instead walked over to the side of the pitch, asked the physio to stitch him up, and returned to the game. Rumours that he had to play the rest of the match wearing one of those big plastic cones they make dogs wear are unconfirmed.
The reason behind all this mind-boggling (and frankly reckless) disregard for one’s own personal safety lays deep in the heart of rugby culture. The rugby field is a place of battle, a place to displace aggression in a controlled, competitive and not-at-all homoerotic manner.
But the Six Nations is a special time for any rugby fan, as the usual passion for the sport is coupled with active encouragement to hate neighbouring countries. Sure it’s not quite the Washington Redskins, but in terms of sporting-condoned racism, it’s the closest the rugby world gets. Expect to hear plenty of talk of Drunken Paddys, Sheep Shaggers, Sweaty Jocks, Cowardly Frogs, Lazy Italians and English Bastards over the next month or so. Although maybe my friends are just less civilised than yours.
National pride and patriotic passion hasn’t even been dampened in recent years by the fact that many of the players are originally from overseas. It still provokes the same fire in the bellies of fans and players alike because of the history, the prestige, and the opportunity to kick the shit out of the French.
N’aww bless. They think Scotland might win.
This year’s tournament is especially interesting given the upcoming World Cup. England are the hosts (if you count Cardiff as part of England), and are looking to pick up the trophy for the first time since 2003. This competition will be seen by the teams as an opportunity to build momentum in time for the biggest event the rugby world has to offer, and the esteemed chance at losing miserably to New Zealand. I try to explain the importance of the World Cup to my more football-minded friends thusly:
“You know how every time there’s a world cup, everyone says England might win?”
“Well in rugby that actually might happen”
Rugby is an entirely different kettle of fish from football. Fans are not segregated. They’re allowed to drink in the stadiums. Indeed, they’ll buy opposition fans drinks, then call them bastards. But it’s done with a wink and a smile, and the knowledge that there’s no need to kick off, because there’s 30 superhuman athletes out on the field beating the ever loving shit out of one another on their behalf.