THE SECRET PLAYER
Outside Of rugby acquaintances and colleagues, i have exactly two friends. it’s as many as i can handle, and as many as can handle me. in fact, i’m slightly suspicious of any grown man with any more than that. Anyway, we have our sad little WhatsApp group of three and much of the conversation on there revolves around cricket.
i haven’t actually seen any televised cricket since the heady days of the 2005 Ashes. so i skim-read Mike Atherton and Vic Marks to maintain the vaguest idea of what’s happening. Otherwise, 60% of that top WhatsApp bantz would be totally lost on me, for it turns out that cricket – and of course i’m talking test cricket here – is never-bloody-ending. What a hellish slog it must be for Root-y, Broad-y, Anderson-y et al.
Mildly diverting as i’m sure this packed calendar must be for true fans, each test series seems to merge into the next. there’s barely time to replenish one’s sense of anticipation, and watching 13 guys stand in a field encouraging each other for four days may just be losing its specialness.
increasingly, the same is happening in rugby. international rugby has never been better to watch. despite the lawmakers’ best efforts to dilute its brutality (see last month’s column), the highest level is, well, incredibly brutal. As well as fast, skilful and varied.
sure, you can get too much of any good thing (or, if Australia are playing, a bad thing) and the confusingly scheduled Rugby Championship can leave even the biggest of rugby nauses feeling all offloaded out. However, it still won’t stop us all excitedly hunkering down with a crate of own-brand craft lager to watch the glut of rugby that November brings. We will even put up with the depressive meanderings of certain long-in-the-tooth pundits, so eager are we to see how the home nations compare this year to the fabled southern hemisphere “giants”.
But then, sure as eggs is eggs, our enthusiasm will follow a steady downward trend and after four weeks of it we will be glad it’s over and that we can get back to remembering that our kids exist on a saturday afternoon.
But hang on, what’s this i see on World Rugby’s schedule? scotland are playing Wales while ireland play italy? What the… And just like that, test rugby may have definitively jumped the shark. i doubt even Johnny sexton’s mum will be interested in the outcome of that.
With decisions to play matches such as this, it’s easy to sympathise with your Joe Marler types deciding to pack it in. even 20 bags a game isn’t enough to keep him slogging his way through another World Cup cycle.
the world at large, and even your own supporters, may not give a fig about the result, but for players each test is a huge physical and mental commitment. Other than for a few McCaw-esque freaks, the passion for your country and all the other good stuff can quickly expire. More so after every defeat.
in the name of disclosure – the title of this column notwithstanding – i do sympathise with Marler because i may in the distant past have found myself in a similar situation. i couldn’t find the will to go through another week on the test treadmill: the mind games from coaches, the scrutiny, the pressure, and at the end of it a proper battering and invariably another loss.
then kids pop along and while you may enjoy the first uninterrupted sleeps in your team hotel, the novelty wears off. You may even miss the blighters. so i slouched off into the sunset, to the lasting regret of no one.
Yes, yes, i’m sure you’re playing a lament on the world’s tiniest violin for those highly paid stars. All i’m saying is it’s not their fault we have so much rugby rammed down our maws. so when you do flick past Argentina playing south Africa for the
15th time in a season, spare a kind thought for the poor battered players forced to engage in the farrago.
Heady days The 2005 Ashes series