Tag: rugby

Rugby: A Feel Good Story

There’s been a lot of feel good stories around rugby recently that have been giving me the warm and fuzzies. So I thought I would collate some here and share them with you, so you can feel warm and fuzzy as well.

First up, my team Wasps signed Nathan Charles, who is probably the only sufferer of cystic fibrosis to play a contact sport professionally, let alone internationally. Thats right, cystic fibrosis.

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Dubbed “the most remarkable rugby player on the planet” by the Telegraph, Nathan, who “seems to defy science and logic” according former Australia coach Ewen McKenzie, takes between 20 and 30 pills a day to combat a condition that typically results in a greatly shortened lifespan in normal people. Of course this guy isn’t normal, he’s a frigging superhero. So of course his chosen sport is rugby.

Next up, Ian McKinley was a talented young rugby player, tipped to be competing with Johnny Sexton to ease Ronan O’Gara out of his position as Ireland’s lead 10. Instead, an accidental boot blinded him in one eye. This derailed his rugby career, but only temporarily.

He got into coaching, moved out to Italy, and then, thanks to some special goggles, started playing again. Then he got signed by Italy’s top professional club, Benneton Treviso. And then this weekend he made his debut for Italy, qualifying on residency ground. The Irish weren’t willing to engage in trials using the goggles, but the Italians stuck by him and now he wears their shirt with pride. Banged over a penalty too to keep them ahead of Fiji

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Given his charity work I will forgive Doddie the tartan suits. Just…

Also this weekend, a bit of a tear-jerker, as former Scotland lock Doddie Weir, battling motor-neuron disease MND, delivered the match ball ahead of Scotland vs New Zealand. Clearly he, and I’m sure the rest of the stadium, struggled to keep the emotion down.

Earlier this year, rugby lost of of its greats in Joost van der Westhuizen, also to MND. Joost, a world cup winner in 1995, was an incredible competitor on the field, and battled MND relentlessly off it. To see his interviews, so full of fight and hope, is an inspiration, while to watch him walk onto the field in 2014 before South Africa vs New Zealand, is to witness courage:

To hop over over to the “other” code briefly, the rugby league world cup has been taking place. And one of the hosts? Papa New Guinea. Apparently rugby league is a phenomenon there, with the whole country fanatical about it.

Sadly England didn’t read the script, and defeated them in the quarter final. But in that semi final England will face Tonga. Tonga scraped past Lebanon (yeah I know right, they play rugby? Cool) and in the group-stages were involved in this epic Haka vs Sipi Tau show-down:

Also in the quarter finals are Fiji, who defeated the afore mentioned Kiwis in a a bit of a wonderful upset to the form book. Loverly.

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Back to Union, and in more “player battles life-threatening condition” news, Christian Lealiifano is now back playing rugby after dealing with leukemia. Following a come-back with the Brumbies, he’s now plying his trade in sunny Ulster. Of his battle with cancer, Lealiifano says: ““It has changed my outlook on life. I would go through this 10 times again for the person I am today, the journey I have been through and the person that I have become.” Nice recent interview here.

Finally, everyone’s favourite Courtney, Mr Lawes, showed he is still up for crushing play makers as Kurtley Beale felt his wrath during England’s eventual pummelling of the Aussies. All the right kind of good feelings.

I’ll leave you with this:

In our country, true teams rarely exist . . . social barriers and personal ambitions have reduced athletes to dissolute cliques or individuals thrown together for mutual profit . . . Yet these rugby players. with their muddied, cracked bodies, are struggling to hold onto a sense of humanity that we in America have lost and are unlikely to regain. The game may only be to move a ball forward on a dirt field, but the task can be accomplished with an unshackled joy and its memories will be a permanent delight. The women and men who play on that rugby field are more alive than too many of us will ever be. The foolish emptiness we think we perceive in their existence is only our own.” – Victor Cahn

and this:

 

Warm and fuzzies out.

 

 

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An odd shaped mirror

It seems obvious that a country’s culture is reflected in its art. The two are essentially inseparable. Art depicts what matters most to the culture, and changes with the flow of this collective stream of ideas. You assume that if a culture is particularly obsessed with heroism, the natural world, or family, then the art produced will mirror these feelings. Art also has the power to inform culture, guiding budding trends and movements, but it still must innately appeal to people to do this, and therefore must be built on some existing foundations.

I’ve argued quit a lot in this blog (here, here and here) that sport, like art, is a fundamental spoke of any culture. Although it may lack intellectual glamour, for me sport is as important to helping us understand the cultures of the world. What children get up to, what people do in their spare time, what they talk about with friends; know this and in some small way more know the people. So, if sport is fundamental to a culture, does it reflect it? Are sports where individualism rises to the top more popular in countries who favour the deeds of the individual? The charismatic megafauna I thought I found in Hungary suggested so, but by the end of the day I wasn’t so sure. The Indian Premier League, the crash-bang-wallop kaleidoscope of cricket that is insanely popular in India is colourful, loud and energetic. This is much like the India I and many others have experienced. Does the IPL also possess the same inequality? There are certainly haves and have-nots.

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Now I’m living in Canada, I keep an interested eye on the sports like hockey and baseball, to see if they will tell me anything extra about the country that has taken me in. There is only so much you can learn from watching on TV however, so I had to attend some games in the flesh. I’ve always loved going to sporting events, there is always something visceral, another sense stimulated, when the men and women are pounding up and down, or into each other, right in front of you. Another layer to the live experience is being in a crowd. You, and tens, hundreds or even thousands of people are all tied together by string from your eyes and heart through the ball or fists or feet of the players before you.

So, the live, Canadian experience, come at me. I’ve not been to any ball games, but a couple of hockey games. Ice hockey of course, as if I need to say. The Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL, and the Guelph Storm in the OHL. So friggin’ Canadian, eh, I imagine. Cold and rugged. But enough of the landscape for want of people, does this frenetic game, and the live experience, tell me anything. Well, Canadians are meant to be very tolerant and accommodating, and they’d have to bear all the breaks and distractions served up for us. It was bad at the lower-level Storm game, with cars on the ice and lights and pounding dance music for any or no reason, but it was excruciating at the Leafs game. Watching players standing around idly while some TV advert blared on somewhere, I got the perverse feeling we were not there to watch the players but that they were there to provide entertainment alongside the dancers and explosions and hot-dog adverts. Its altogether quite a passive experience, some applause for every goal but not a great deal more noise than that, the biggest cheer of the Storm game when they score a 5th, rewarding everyone with some free buffalo wings. I enjoyed the matches as a general rule, despite my difficulty following the tiny black puck up and down the ice. The Leafs game especially had a wonderful, tragic air about it, the home team succumbing to a home defeat from a short-handed goal despite young tyro Matthews raging against the mediocrity around him.

Contrast this with the meaty roar that greats Peter Betham’s knock on, sealing Wasps win against Leicester tigers. Or the unfiltered disappointment when Queen’s Park Ranger’s second short on target sinks Wolverhampton Wanderers [what a combination of team names!]. Or the unbounded joy when Cambridge United’s Luke Berry, from down on his backside, knocks anoter nail into the Notts County’s coffin down at the Abbey* on Newmarket road. These provided natural and timely contrast to the two Canadian hockey games. They felt poles apart. One polished and gleaming like the ice, the others a little grubby, but essentially savoury experiences. Nowhere was the contrast more stark than at Cambridge United, where in a tin-roofed terrace behind the goal in the 4th tier of English football the songs and spirit were legion, and the energy marched down the concrete into the legs of the never-will-bes in the pitch. Its an experience that sets me grinning from ear to lobe just thinking on it again.

Does this then inform me of the difference between English and Canadian culture? The English passionate and filled with fervour? Ha, ask around, I think you’ll find we’re famously reserved. Canadians superficial and passive? In a country where people hunt for meat and fur, where everyone has snow tires and tales of digging out of snow drifts? I think not. If you think the English accent is sophisticated, come shout “wanker, wanker, wanker” with us at the way goalie, it might change your perceptions. Certainly settles which of the two countries is more polite.

In fact, out in the icy oval there was a frivolousness and a gaudiness that I don’t think you see in other aspects of life here. Maybe its that US of American influence, perverting the natural order of things**. Maybe what this reflects is the diversity of ideas that are allowed to coexist here, even if they grate or grind somewhat. So it is allowed to be like this, rather than an overt expression of a people. Because if these experiences are meant to mirror what a country is like, it fails to reflect half the things I’m fond of. A mirror that’s got bent all out of shape.

 

 

 

 

*it may have another name now, but it will always be the Abbey

**of course it is also possible that I am attributing the things I like to Canadian and as Canadian values, and the things I dislike as American, and so casting America the role of pantomime villain is has often assumed recently. There are certainly Canadians who are jerks, and plenty of lovely, cultured Americans who too dislike the things I’ve mentioned here.

Diversity

Colourful synthetics, dark bloody skin; rowdy exuberance, polite applause; going solo, doing it with brothers in arms; avoiding death or leaning closer to it. I’m aproachimg halfway on my expedition/holiday across the continents, looking for and at sports in all their guises. I’ve just left the sunny climes of Spain behind, and am enjoying the air by the banks of the Danube in Budapest, Hungary. I’m here to see a different cultures take on sport, for a bit of nationalism fuelling sport, but all hopefully a bit of weirdness. But before all that, a quick round up of whats been so far:

In Morocco there was football: on the streets, in the stadia and in the middle of nowhere; its simplicity and tribalism allowing it to take root wherever it finds itself.

In Spain there has been great diversity. I started with the swirls and swoops of the kite surfers in Tarifa. Men and women trying to fly, what joy.

After this I wound my way up to Cadiz, then across to Seville. Here I encountered the drama and passion of flamenco, and the ritual and (questionable) artistry of the bullfight.

After this I escaped to the Sierra Nevada. Here I dangled over some ledges, watched climbers scale sheer walls of rock, and pondered the draw of closeness to death. We seem curiously keen to put ourselves in such situations when being alive is so important to us.

From here I journeyed to Almeria, not sure of what I would find. In fact I found a puzzling question: what makes something a sport? I had concluded that bullfighting was not, as there was no true contest. But where did this leave the kite surfing or climbing I had watched? What about the flamenco that unveiled itself in a murky bar one evening?
I’m not convinced it is, but I was enthralled by it nonetheless.

Almeria also posseses some stunning coastline. This is not lost on the local surfers and paddle boarders, although I doubt it is appreciated beyond their tight knit circles.

Back on the less salubrious town beach I went in search of the dance-martial art of capoeira. Unfortunately it was not to be found, but I did chance upon the trio of beach volleyball:

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Acrobatic local kids at flipping through the air:

And the surprising sight of Almeria University’s 7s rugby team stepping, offloading and strutting across the sand:

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Cursing my arthritic knee, with memories of matches passed and dreams of matches unrealised plaguing me, I headed to Valencia, via Murcia. There was little in Murcia. There was however a great deal in Valencia. A stroll through the long city park (converted from the now diverted river bed) I watched locals play football and even more rugby. Two separate teams with great numbers in their mini and youth sections. Perhaps Spain is one to watch for the future in this regard.

From there things got a little less mainstream. First I chanced across a game of pilota Valenciana. Two teams (the classic red vs blue) swatted a little ball up and down the narrow street with their hands, ricocheting off walls and flicking it off the floor. “Dont let it bounce twice” I imagined them cry as I stood and tried to fathom the rules.

From the simple to the ridiculous, I next found two clown-costumed crews building towers out of their teammates. Mediaeval music, cobbled streets, a cloth-capped child perched on top; what year had I stepped into?

After that it got a lot more modern, with the dynamism of a handball game:

And the very American razmatazz of a basketball game:


Despite the odd looks I got (especially at the handball game, must’ve been the ‘tan” I had from a day at the beach) the two home teams won. Perhaps I was a lucky charm. Certainly I felt lucky just to be there.
In Barcelona there was just time to be reminded that for some people exercise is the game before I had to leave.DSCN2669[1].JPG

I also found out in Barcelona that my visa for India had been confirmed. So, come at me Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and India, show me what you’ve got?