Apart from all the regular pediatrician-neonatalist ghosts floating about the maternity ward nodding their heads and tut-tutting, it’s a little known fact that when you are born in Australia, there a very special doctor always present.
He’s a specialist of sorts who stands in the corner of the room, hands in the jacket pockets of a beautiful charcoal pinstripe bespoke suit flicking his eyes between the cute nurse and the little machine that goes ‘ping’.
Not long after you’re slapped on the rear end and gulp your first breath, the specialist takes a quick look at the newborn then gently grabs your father’s arm, leads him outside and asks two questions.
Unlike bad haircuts, regrettable fashion choices (skinny jeans? Really?), disco and those hideous lads from Arcade Fire, the answers to these questions can never be undone, unforgotten or erased from the core of your existence. In short, the answers shape your life forever.
The first question is the hardest: “Rugby union, rugby league, Australian football or soccer?”
For those who know nothing of these sports I speak of let me break it down. Soccer is for players who can’t catch, Australian football is for players who can’t tackle and rugby league is for people who can’t count (I’m really proud of myself that I didn’t just call them Neanderthals. Oh.)
If your father answers correctly – rugby union – the specialist asks the second question: “Forward or back?”
From that point on your future is sealed.
If your father said “forward”, you are destined to become an outstanding athlete, not frightened of hard work, brutal, aggressive and strong when it is needed but cuddly, soft and generally a lovable rogue who enjoys a tight knit family, a good time and camaraderie with fellow forwards.
If your father said “back” you will be handsome, but very little else and chances are the specialist in the bespoke probably slapped your father across the face for having the audacity to choose "back".
For those who have no idea what rugby union is or the other southern hemisphere sports mentioned like rugby league or Australian football, it’s okay.
This is meant to be a cultural education, a gift from Australia to Northern Pen readers if you will.
I’ve just got to put it out there that I’ve never really been a good teacher, a great student, but very poor in schooling people on anything. I did tutor a high school student once in math, science and English but they turned out to be somewhat of a basket case in later life.
Not saying it was my fault they turned to hard liquor but I unnecessarily carry around guilt that maybe, at some point, my teaching turned them bad. Maybe it was my description of algebra or calculus. Who knows?
Anyway, consider that to be your disclaimer and what you are about to read may lead your head to explode, your anger to broil (if you are league player or a back that’s probably already happened) and, if you persist, I can guarantee your sanity may be at risk.
What am I talking about?
I’m talking about rugby union and in particular, the Rugby World Cup. You see this week I launch myself into the blogosphere to bring you my own interpretation and analysis of what’s happening at the sport’s preeminent tournament.
Because I love it.
When I was born, my father correctly answered “rugby union” and “forward” from which point my life has been saturated with the sport. I’ve played it at various levels (never really well mind you) and I reported on the last Rugby World Cup in France in 2007 so when the opening ceremony launched the tournament last weekend, in true Pavlovian conditioning, I began drooling. I also chased the cat.
Bear in mind this tournament happens only once every four years so it’s a big deal. Kind of like the FIFA World Cup or Olympics except without all the scandals, match-fixing allegations and drug debacles.
Rugby may have earned the nickname “the game they play in heaven” but participants are from angelic however despite the outwardly violent nature of the sport, you’d be surprised just how gentle and genial rugby players are.
It’s impossible to deny there aren’t some right nonces in the sport though.
In 2006, New Zealand national Chris Masoe was fined after he punched a man in the face but not before a team mate, Tana Umaga, “grabbed a woman's handbag and hit Masoe twice across the head, at which Masoe allegedly burst into tears.” and just before the World Cup started, Australian player, James O'Connor, 21, was dropped from the side for sleeping in after a night drinking and missing Australia's World Cup team announcement and official photo call.
Anyway I’m getting ahead of myself. This was intended to be an introduction of sorts. Instead of me trying to explain the nuances of the sport, you should take some time to quickly read through the following brief articles on the sport to get an idea of it is played.
Here is an awesome animated breakdown of the sport that will give you the best idea of the basics of the sport.
If you prefer reading, here’s a snappy little brief from a person who clearly hates Australia.
Check out Monday’s edition of the Northern Pen where I introduce this blog in a column I plan on writing once in a while.
Stay tuned and remember this mantra and repeat it often (especially North American readers): Rugby union is nothing like American football. Rugby union is nothing like American football.