Touch. Pause. Engage.

I’m married to a woman who is passionate. This is of course, a good thing.

Not only is she passionate, she’s passionate about rugby. Again, a good thing.

I’m not passionate about rugby. This isn’t such a good thing.

See, I’ve never been one for sport. I’ve never enjoyed playing sport especially, and I’ve never much got into the whole sports fanatic mindset. Quite frankly, I enjoy my fanboy tendencies more when they’re aimed at Imperial Stormtroopers, regenerating time travellers or giant transforming robots. Sweaty men running around a field after a bit of leather… feh.

Marriage of course is all about compromise, so as much as I wasn’t keen on it, I had to start and try to force some interest in rugby. Now from a young age I’d always understood the rules of football (or if you’re reading this in the US, actual football, not frikkin’ soccer) even if I’d never enjoyed playing the game particularly. After trying to learn the rules of rugby it’s become blindingly apparent to me why I understood the rules of football – it’s because they’re bloody simple in comparison.

My knowledge of rugby up until recently ran thus: you pass the ball backwards, the goalposts are in the shape of a big ‘H’, lots of Joneses play for Wales and Wales are generally going to lose while trying to remain optimistic. If by some tragic error I’d been caught up in a rugby-based conversation in a social situation, I knew I could throw in my verbal hand grenade of “Well I’m glad Jones was playing”, and then hightail it out of there while people wondered which Jones I was referring to as the smoke cleared.

So I start watching the games with the wife. We start simple, with internationals. No need to get into the complexities of a league just yet. Nation against nation. Gotcha.

Lesson #1 is ludicrously simple, and one that every Welshman already knows anyway (seriously, it’s like genetic or something, even I know it) – You NEVER support the English in any sport ever.  Easy.

This particular competition is called the Six Nations. I correctly surmise this is because six nations compete in it. I thought it was Five Nations? Well, it used to be.  Now it’s six. Cool. Room for expansion then.

As the games unfold, I learn the little things behind the competition. If a team lose all their matches, they get the Wooden Spoon. Italy have a good Wooden Spoon collection. If a team wins all their matches it’s called a Grand Slam. If one of the British Isles team beats the other three British Isles teams, it’s called the Triple Crown (I think), and so on.

And as I pick up these bits of info, so some of the actual rules and regs filters into my non-sport enlightened brain. There’s 15 players per team, plus a set of replacements on the bench.If the ball is passed forward it’s a foul. If the ball is dropped or fumbled it could be a knock-on, and a penalty kick given. Running the ball over the opponents try-line gives you a try worth 5 points. The ball is then reset and kicked over the goals for another 2 points. Penalties score 3 points, etc etc… the complexities of the game start to filter down through the sci-fi stained coffee filter of my mind, and a weird thing starts to happen.

I start to appreciate the beauty of a carefully timed pass (or off-load!) that leads to a sprint to the try-line. I start to admire the power of a crunching tackle that stops that all-important break. I marvel at a penalty kick taken from a team’s own half that sails over the posts to win a game. I get annoyed at a throw from the line-out that clearly wasn’t straight but is allowed to continue. Worryingly, things start to make sense. And even more worryingly I start to enjoy it a little bit.

I start to remember players names. True, lots of Joneses DO play for Wales, but I know some of them now. Steven Jones. Ryan Jones. I start to remember other players names. James Hook (That’s more of a Peter Pan thing tho’). Shane Williams. Martyn Williams. Leigh Halfpenny. Even the regional stuff begins to stick. The Blues are Cardiff. Ospreys are Swansea. The Dragons… well, ok, I don’t know who they are. Newport I think. Which would make the Scarlets Llanelli. Again, I think.  But stuff starts to sink in.

I start to see how barmy the sports fanatics are. They’re just as weird as some of the sci-fi geeks I’ve met at various cons. If Wales win a game while Ceri is wearing a certain shirt, she must always wear that shirt when they play. If they lose, maybe it’s because she wasn’t wearing the same jeans, or panties, or socks, or bra as before. Or maybe the winning power of the shirt has declined? Once, the Blues were having a terrible game until Ceri changed her top, and then they won. Purely because she changed her shirt – although I’ve a feeling other factors had more of an impact quite honestly. And this isn’t just rugby – football fans too. When I lived with Thon, I came home in the middle of a cup final to find him sitting rigid in the living room, freezing cold, because the window was open when his team scored, and so it had to stay open.

Honestly, my pattern of having my Autobots hold weapons in their left hands and Decepticons holding weapons in their right hands seems quite normal in comparison.

I end up going to a Six Nations final between Wales and France, and I sit in the Millenium Stadium and cheer with the rest of the crowd, and sing at the top of my lungs as Wales walk off with the Grand Slam in 2008. In many ways, I’m cheering and singing because I don’t want to let my wife down, and I want to try to fit in. I admit it – I like rugby now, but I don’t love it. But I start to understand why my wife loves the game so much. I’ll never enjoy it to the same level as she does, I just simply don’t care about it as much, but I can share in some of the enjoyment and thrill of a close game, and I can appreciate the level of skill and fitness it takes to play the game. I know more about the game than ever before, I’m still learning. That referee Peter Alan is a cee-word, Brian Moore is a rubbish commentator, etc etc… I’m learning a new appreciation for the game, and I think Ceri appreciates the efforts I’ve gone to to try and learn some of it’s nuances.

Hell, I bet she never thought I’d blog about rugby. It must be having some effect – it’s all about consistency and continuity after all, and not missing opportunities…

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9 thoughts on “Touch. Pause. Engage.

  1. Dude you dont get a penalty kick or a knock on, you get a scrum.
    The Ospreys are Neath and Swansea Ospreys not Swansea.
    The Dragons are Newport and Gwent Dragons.

    I appreciate your efforts though.

  2. Duuuude! It’s a scrum for a knock-on, not a penalty! 😛

    And it’s sad that I can’t defend my particular actions during that one game of Wendyball. Especially seeing as I largely deplore the bloody sport. Gagh. That said, I did hold my breath through 85% of ‘Paul’ cos I have this habit when Simon Pegg is on the screen…

  3. Since I’ve already been beaten to the knock on one, more pedantically:
    Infringements not foul, laws not rules, Brian Moore is a brilliant commentator and anyone who doesn’t follow the game religiously shouldn’t be allowed international tickets :p

  4. One other thing: at the scrum, why do refs even say ‘pause’? They leave several seconds after the ‘touch’, thereby initiating the ‘pause’ phase. When they do say ‘pause’ it lasts miliseconds before the ‘engage’. Completely pointless!

    And I agree with Mayhew re: Brian Moore. The best commentator is clearly Jon Davies but Moore does a good job.

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