Monday, September 10, 2007

Some grow just like their dads / and some grow up too tall

I have to admit a bias here. I’m not a rugby player, or, for that matter, a follower.

I just don’t get it….never really have. When at boarding school I did actually play. You had to, it was compulsory…either that or hockey, and nobody really got away with playing hockey without being whispered about behind their backs. You could never make prefect if you played hockey, or for that matter, softball.

So, yes, ever the conformist and desperate to get in the prefects room (which I didn’t do, moving north to Auckland at the end of the 6th form), I played rugby. I’d played earlier, age 10 or abouts in Upper Hutt, when Dad decided I should give it a go (he’d played for Canterbury under somethings some years earlier). But the game made no real sense to me, and it still doesn’t really, so I declined after a week or two to return, and my mother, bless her, breathed a large protective sigh.

But at high school I discovered I was actually quite good at it. I made the 2nd XV, and was bussed all over the southern part of the North Island, where we played other boys schools and as often as not, won. The problem was I didn’t like it at all. I hated the encouraged brutality of it all, I hated the grabbing and thuggish brawls and the psychology that went with it that said that all that was very acceptable.

Oh, and I hated scrums…and the idea that I was obliged to grab and twist all sorts of things (and have mine twisted)….I’m no homophobe but rugby union is a very, very gay game, and if that’s what you want…more power to you.

I gave it all away after a game at Te Aute Maori Boys College where one large teen came down in a line out and deliberately used his elbow to break my nose. As I rolled in the mud and blood pissed out I was told I took it well and he was congratulated for giving them the (winning) edge. Yep…a fine game.

So I opted out..resigned from the second XV. But that didn’t work…I was allocated then to the 4th XV, who made me deputy captain, sight unseen (coming from the 2nd etc) so I bit the bullet, and simply failed to turn up enough times that they walked away from me.

Since then I’ve watched a game or two, but generally find Union to be, unlike Rugby League or Soccer which do seem to the observer, rather more skilful, a fairly immature sort of game. It’s thuggish, it’s brutal, and it’s a sport that arguably engenders a level of violence in the society I come from, not least against women and children…that’s my opinion and I know others would happily, and at times, violently oppose it, which I guess is partially my point made. I know the abuse I got both online and by email after my last mention of rugby here.

Why mention all this now? Well, because large numbers of people I know in NZ seem to be obsessing about the bloody Rugby World Cup. Actually that’s not true…almost the whole country is obsessing about it if you believe the mass media (I don’t). And that obsession is being foisted across the miles on me, as if, like the hockey players, there is something questionable about me if I don’t obsess too. And the assumption seems to be that the whole world is also obsessing about it.

Which is not true, or even close…the Rugby World Cup is slightly more a global event than the American Baseball ‘World Series’, but really not very much more, especially if you look at the actual teams participating: there are the few countries in which it is the dominant sport….namely New Zealand and, uhhhh, Tonga and Samoa. Then there is Australia, which, in which in NSW it finds a following but really nowhere else (League and Aussie rules rule absolutely..the last RWC final, in Australia, pulled an audience of only some 4 million there, a big number but not as big as the media frenzy would imply); South Africa where the white people like it and it’s their national sport but no so of the overwhelming mass of the population; and then the bunch (the various UK constituents, France and Argentina) in which it runs a very, very, very distant second to the popular game, but has some traction ……..the one the world calls football. Then you have the rest, the ones like Japan, USA, and Italy where no-one, beyond a tiny minority actually knows anything about the game, but those that obsess like to think it’s a growth sport with a fast amassing following.

Oh, and Namibia and Georgia!! Seriously!!

Which is fine…believe what you will (many of my best friends love it etc), but don’t foist it on me. I’m in a country where nobody, beyond a few expats in dark, rather sad, expat bars, even knows what a bloody rugby ball looks like. And don’t tell me, as someone did, that the NZ Rugby Union has somehow determined that 4 billion will be watching….world population today about 6.7 billion….remove China, India, Pakistan, most of Africa, Indonesia, most of South America, the USA, Russia, and at least 50% of Europe from the total and you may be looking at an audience aware of the cup of some 200 million or less, and I understand that once you take a step back from the unreal cumulative figures used to manipulate a figure of 4 billion, that’s somewhat closer to the real audience being tossed around behind the scenes.

Obsess away but leave me out of it and keep in it perspective for gods sake.

Of course large numbers of my friends love the game (and obsess over it), so I’m in serious shite now, but what the hell.

Damn, I’m grumpy today…..

Technorati Tags:


thewalker said...

well said Mr Grigg,

you are a brave man though....


Rich W said...

Interesting post Simon.
I'm sort of in your boat but coming from the other direction - my dad played rugby for Canterbury Uni but pushed his sons to play football instead, which I still do every week.
Dad enjoyed rugby but reckoned he would've played football if he could have - impossible at his South Canterbury boys' school back in the 50s.
I didn't watch a game consciously at least until I was about 16 and was anti-rugby until much later: I too thought it a thuggish game and didn't think much of most of the crowd I knew who were into it... the rich kids at school mostly, the prefects etc. (I think any working class types who were into rugby dropped out of school by the time I formed an opinion on it...)But once I moved away from the hometown and "studied" at Otago (more like spent four years having a good time, or trying to), I started to come around.
Some of my good pals were well into it, on a pure rugby follower level, and it was educational to see their appreciation of the finer points of the game... yes, there are some!
Plus rugby was going professional, Lomu and Cullen were waltzing around the opposition (or through in Jonah's case) and the game suddenly started to look a bit less about violence and a bit more about skill.
It actually improved, and has continued to IMHO, both as a spectacle and as a contest.
Super Rugby was definitely a good thing on the way, though it's getting a bit tired now – but who would’ve thought Murdoch was right?
So now strangely (to people who knew me back then) I count myself not only a fan, but I've actually also accidentally become a part-time sports journalist, writing radio stories on the sport (and others) and interviewing coaches and players etc. That’s given me another perspective, into how tough it is in the professional era to be a player and the dedication and concentration required.
It's fair enough to not give a sh*t about the game, it is after all only a game... he grudgingly writes (don't tell the missus! ;-) I said that, k?)... and too many folks here in NZ have taken it way too personally: ‘99 was disgusting in the way people turned on Hart and the players, I think the ‘03 reaction showed NZ's grown up a bit though.
But it's also true to say that hanging out to watch your team (provincial or national) is something a lot of NZ folk look forward to every week, a highlight of a few hours to get together with some other chums, drink some beers for sure! and yell at the telly/field. cathartic, and a release from the normal drudgery of the week. I don't know how many take it so personally that they smack the wife around... and I'd blame their parents, not rugby, for that anyway.
Also I have to disagree on your point that League is more skilful, both codes have their own unique charm but Union is obviously more open with the contest for the ball - however the individual skill to break the line in League is therefore arguably greater.
As a football player I must say it's the better game than either for sure however!
Always good to hear arguments both ways on this, the media in general is ramping it up somewhat nauseatingly back here, and I found the Italy thrashing very disappointing to watch actually – but I still can’t wait to see the All Blacks take on South Africa or Australia.
And for the first time ever, I’m going to see the NZ side play, against Scotland at Murrayfield in a week and a half!
Keep up the blog, it's always a good read.
Richard Wain