A Sporting Lament...

21st March, 2011

Upon the bold, burgundy hued blog banner to be found immediately north north east of this very sentence sits the all-embracing addendum… “and stuff”.

Please be made fully aware that this post falls squarely, with a hefty phallic thrust into the freshly dug “and stuff” ditch of higher street photography irrelevance. This wad of text is a sporting lament, for a fact little known beyond the foul and paltry shores of Hen & Chicken Bay is that Nowhere Man also photographs a game called rugby…   

Once upon a time a medieval historian said of the exceedingly gothic Chartres Cathedral in the well rivered French hinterland, that it is best appreciated as a spiritual rather than a religious building… and as present day rugby stutters through the haze of a mulish half-light it is a cross purpose sentiment both starkly relevant and achingly required.   

For the game they attempt to play on the well gossamered playing fields of Greater Heaven has lost its way with a completeness not comparatively witnessed since the 17th century medieval Christmas game of Roi de la Fe’ve found its pudding bean fatally usurped by the shimmering promise of a well baked gold sovereign.

In a recent independent study undertaken by the Jasmine Institute of Upper Stroud it was found that the average period of game time afforded players between the plethora of well whistled punctuations  occurring on the paddocks of contemporary schoolboy and/or club colts level rugby is remarkably down to a paltry 11.26 seconds. Ruckus Interruptus is threatening to re-categorize rugby; taking it from the once proud sport played joyously by fun loving native children in and around the Buddhist Temples of Laos, and depositing it despondently toward the dry and furrowed brows of beigely humourless high disciplinaria.

“Your entry into that ruck young man was both recklessly obtuse to the perpendicular and a good nano second post any reasonable interpretative summation of an initial contestial ground grapple having been formed”

The shrill of overt pedantry is squeezing the life force from each and every mid winters Saturday afternoon (that an the price of pies). Our contemporary game having evolved into a cacophonously bittersweet symphony, verve being consigned to the haemoglobic blood bin of a clot less carnage. Rugby has become a verdantly staged production of liniment flavoured calculus. The literal interpretation is killing our code, and in the very process it is making rugby league look cultured, Aussie Rules appear skillful and the option of staying home with a good book quite comparatively aerobic. 

“Flanker, that’s a yellow card. Please take the allotted down-time to brush up on the eight man scrum teachings of Schopenhauer with particular focus on the relentless willing and doomed failure of wheeling for personal advantage … oh, and get a hair cut!”  

Surely the rules and regulations governing any worthwhile sport are set down in an earnest effort to best serve the core objectives of that pastime. They should not define from on high, nor constrict the efforts of those well tapered lads blessed with an ability to tuck the Gilbert and shimmy with panache, forcing them conversely into some gaffer taped world of Orwellian bleakness. Put simply, if the rules get in the way you’ve got a problem. And yes, Rugby has a problem. 

One must ask how on earth we have progressed (ironic use of the word) from the glorious anarchy of a UK schoolboy named Ellis scooping up the pill and free-styling at will toward a state of unfettered gay abandonment. For when did we loose that unbridled joi de vie? When did discipline smother the athletic exploit? And when are the rule book rationalists going to appreciate the game for the collective stream of consciousness that it truly is. For rugby in its purest form is a tapestry of high expression, a Buddhist journey … a poem.

 So just why has this ideal been left lying dormant, smothered below layer upon layer of crusty inconsequence?

To be found at the coalface of our outrage are those learned gents parading buffed and natty in canary yellow (with a touch of robin red and a sliver of wren blue) who have become so manfully proficient at blowing, pointing and then looking quite stern. The modern day rugby union referee has pushed beyond the categorization of mere vocation; he has leap frogged the hedge of celestial calling. No, the prototype rugby ref has become a self contained Jungian personality type. Starchy, white collared, outcome driven pillars to whom ambiguity presents as some foreign form of Arts Council myth. They are Plato’s Guardians in a Republic of recycled phase envy. Purveyors of statutory verbosity who force the hemlocked chalice of 3.15 tedium upon the withered lips of anyone foolhardy enough to gaze game-wards from the tiered seating of a vacant sporting curiosity. 

“If we keep blowing to the letter of the law – they will eventually learn”.

Whilst it is undeniable that most rugby fans do love a good logarithm or two before bedtime, few memorize the volumes entirety before lights out, and even fewer feel the need to double check the accuracy of the author’s handiwork using a set square and a pair of Cartesian callipers.

“We mean our guardians to be true saviours and not destroyers of the State”.                                     
          - Socrates to Adeimantus (Plato’s Republic)

Rugby referees are clearly a different breed. And yet blame must push past the apparent to rest more accurately at the feet of the feeders of these curious creatures … for yes, as unbelievable as it may seem … someone up in the well carpeted crows nest of Rugby House is nourishing and cajoling this linearly, anti-game behaviour. It is almost as if a directive has been issued to make the sport so visually inaccessible as to guarantee a shedding of everyday followers. A spite your face snobbery so extreme as to burn and pillage wannabe devotees; exclusivity set up with a secret handshake and a Pythagorean captains run across twickers@twilight.org. Legendary All Blacks half Justin Marshall renounced the game a bore back in 2004 and little has changed for anyone honest enough to open up and vent deep seated, oval shaped personal truths.

“As entertainment some of the matches were about as pleasant to experience as a root canal procedure – something has to be done”
                                                   - Spiro Zavos (Rugby Heaven. Feb, 2010).      

And yet peering into the sugary world of the dummy half scooter and the mock scrimmage (i.e. rugby league) we find the exulted ‘Book of Harriganism’ with its paradoxical belief in an” Authority Unannounced”. The scriptures (published by News Ltd with a forward by Phil Rothfield) tell of marquee contests played out before feverish crowds in which but a handful of noted infringements befell each and every contest. Legend has it that King Bill orchestrated theatre of a pure athletic magnificence, providing maximum flow using but the vaguest raising of a well trained right eyebrow. The pace was frenetic; the entertainment supreme. And whilst this is a markedly different culture, it is undeniably a game whose origins grew and were moulded directly from that of our own.  

 The bean counters would argue with paradoxical fervour that they are penalizing in an effort to speed the game up - especially in relation to the breakdown. Yet the IRB Law Book to be found on The Laws of Rugby Union website is a document weighing in at a whopping 4.5MBs. And in the name of thorough research I did attempt to open this puffy file on the high powered Dell down at Woy Woy’s Spike Milligan Memorial Library but was alas timed out; the reasonable expectation of a modern world succumbing darkly to yet another rugger stoppage.

“The law makers have been drinking too much South African white wine”
                                                     - Eddie Jones. 2009 (former Wallaby coach)

Rugby is not a mathematical equation. Neither should it be seen as a relentless historical homage to July 1893. The game in its current form is floundering hopelessly, in dire need of much right brained: Aquarian, existentialist thought … it needs find relevance, a point, a purpose … perhaps even an enjoyment factor … a soul.

For rugby circa 2011 has been reduced to little more than the tired cheese soufflĂ© of angular frustration, unable to rise due to the continual opening and closing of the oven door by men with mitts, perfect teeth and chronic OCD. Fussing, continually fussing they ferret with spatula’s half empty until all that is served up to the spiritually crushed troupe of loyal lunchtime aficionados, a motley mound of sods known popularly as “fans”, is but a small china dish awash with cheddary free range swill and the profuse aroma of a hopelessly concentrated uncertainty.

“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight losing my religion…”
                                                                      -  REM

“Advantage Over!”

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