Not my game, rugby. Educated at a soccer-playing school you only got to play rugby if you couldn’t get on any of the footy teams. Therefore I don’t quite recall how I got to take part in my one and only match. I must have been in the backs as I don’t remember scrumming down. My hazy recollections amount to discovering the ball in my hands once or twice and immediately hurling it a long way away, in whatever direction I didn’t care, so as to divert the attentions of the big boys on the opposing team.
But here in Ireland they are mad for it, like they are for their soccer and GAA (not athletics regrettably). The enthusiasm has not been dampened by the recent Grand Slam where Ireland showed they had the biggest balls.
In Galway town, early in the afternoon of the epic decider against Wales, I saw a bar advertising the game on TV – along with 100% of bars in the two countries of course. But this one offered ‘A free pint if Brian O’Driscoll scores a try’. I wasn’t there when Drico dotted down late in the first half but ever since I’ve been wondering how many punters were in the bar, and whether or not the gaffer waited for TMO confirmation before paying out!
And now Leinster play Munster in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup at Croke Park in a fortnight’s time. The scramble for tickets is astonishing given the 82,000 capacity. No one is in any doubt that Munster fans will get their hands on many of the Leinster allocation – they are past masters at this after years of success around Europe. But it is the enthusiasm and optimism of the Leinster fans that amazes me. Unless something extraordinary happens the Red Machine will yet again throttle the life out of the aristocrats of Leinster as easily as you would your granny, having ascertained her Will was in order.
But much more personal to me is a little match coming up at Headquarters (Twickenham) tomorrow. Back in 1979 I was at Twickers to see Moseley, then a major club from Birmingham’s suburbs, narrowly lose the John Player Cup Final to Leicester. This was long before the game became professional. When it did Moseley handled it badly and fell headlong down through the new English leagues. Only in recent years have they clambered back somewhat. Today they hold their own in Div 1, the second tier of English rugby. A couple of weeks back they unexpectedly beat the no.2 team in the division, Exeter, in the semi-final of the EDF Energy Trophy. Tomorrow it will be like old times as 80 coaches leave Birmingham to see Moseley take on Leeds Carnegie, the runaway division leaders and overwhelming favourites, in the final. Whatever the outcome it will be a day that few of those 1970’s fans will ever have expected to experience again.
Edit (Saturday) Moseley 23 – 18 Leeds Carnegie!!!