Chanelling my in­ner Nip­pon - cheer­ing for the Ja­panese rugby team

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION - With David Medcalf med­der­s­me­[email protected]

IWISH hereby to out my­self as un­pa­tri­otic… In the past I have felt the hairs ris­ing on the back of my neck watch­ing the telly as ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ was played while Katie Tay­lor or Ea­mon Cogh­lan took a win­ner’s medal in some for­eign field, wip­ing a sen­ti­men­tal tear from my eye when the cam­era turned to the tri­colour. I have swayed and sung along in rowdy cho­rus - ‘come on you boys in green’ and ‘low lie the fields of Athenry’ and ‘shoul­der to shoul­der’ - as oc­ca­sion de­manded. I howled in righ­teous in­dig­na­tion as the slow mo­tion re­plays showed how the hand of Thierry Henry de­nied our men World Cup ad­vance­ment and I felt each blow as Bar­ney McGuigan wilted be­fore Ste­vie Cruz in piti­less Texan heat.

But the other morn­ing I dis­cov­ered my­self cheer­ing at the TV set as the Ja­panese rugby team made our lads look leaden-footed in the swel­ter­ing hu­mid­ity of Shizuoka, spon­ta­neously de­lighted that the bet­ter team had taken the vic­tory. What on earth was go­ing on in my mind? And not only in the mind of lit­tle old me. A fel­low sports­man I met later that day con­fessed that he too dis­cov­ered his in­ner Nip­pon com­ing as he watched pro­ceed­ings from the Far East over his break­fast. And I sus­pect that we two were not the only ones to turn coats.

I re­call talk­ing to a dis­tin­guished vet­eran GAA man from Fib­bergib­bet who spoke of tak­ing his seat in the stand at a county hurl­ing fi­nal. The fix­ture pit­ted his free scor­ing neigh­bours from Bal­ly­go­lightly against the tough tack­ling forces of Knock­e­mover.

In the days be­fore the big game, he de­cided that he would sup­port the Bal­lygo lads. Sure, hadn’t he gone to school with the fa­thers of all the play­ers. Hadn’t his daugh­ter crossed the parish bound­ary to marry a Bal­lygo man. Didn’t he buy his gro­ceries at the post of­fice in Bal­ly­go­lightly.

It was mid-way through the first half be­fore he re­alised that he was howl­ing in the man­ner of one de­ranged in sup­port of Knock­e­mover – and to hell with pre-match res­o­lu­tions. Sure didn’t the Bal­lygo shower beat his own side in the fi­nal of 1957. Didn’t they use some highly du­bi­ous tac­tics in the process. And, worse, hadn’t they poached their star full for­ward from Fib­bergib­bet.

My friend’s ex­pe­ri­ence un­der­lines that sport is al­ways more about the heart than it is about the head. So what is my ex­cuse for scrum­ming down with the Japs? Maybe it was the way that the Ir­ish sports me­dia re­acted to the win over Scot­land to pre­sume that top­ping our group at the tour­na­ment was now in­evitable. All the lofty anal­y­sis was based on the ex­pec­ta­tion that Ire­land could now plan for a quar­ter-fi­nal tilt at South Africa – done and dusted was the tone of com­men­tary. This ig­nored the fact that Ja­pan is a highly pop­u­lated coun­try with plenty of rugby play­ers.

And re­mem­ber, they beat the Spring­boks in the World Cup four years ago. The truth is that, if they had slightly big­ger physique, then they would have mus­cled their way to the top of the sport long ago. With the Ir­ish field­ing many of their sec­ond-choice play­ers in front of 60,000 home fans in sauna-like con­di­tions, the pre­sump­tion of vic­tory was out­ra­geous and un­be­com­ing.

Per­haps arm­chair fol­low­ers were also un­easy about Ire­land’s billing as the num­ber one rugby team in the world. Maybe there is a part of our Ir­ish psy­che which prefers to be in the cor­ner of the out­sider. We never re­ally be­lieved that we truly were the num­ber one and were per­versely happy when the team from the Ris­ing Sun came along and proved us right.

Be­sides, cast­ing aside all na­tion­al­is­tic bias, the win­ning out­fit in Shizuoka played en­ter­pris­ing rugby. They were sling­ing the ball around like hy­per­ac­tive school­boys, a con­trast to the mo­ronic bish­bash style which has be­come the norm in in­ter­na­tional test rugby.

So, to sum up, Satur­day’s re­sult gave the rugby es­tab­lish­ment a poke in the eye, re-es­tab­lished Ire­land’s tra­di­tional sta­tus as un­der­dogs, and of­fered us some skil­ful en­ter­tain­ment. In short it was a good 80 min­utes work.

From here on in, of course, we will back Joe Sch­midt’s team – now re-cast as plucky un­fan­cied jour­ney­men - to the hilt. With any luck they will have the chance to ex­tract prompt re­venge from Ja­pan – in the fi­nal.

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