Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Mud, Glorious Mud and other excuses; On Spearing

TSA is delighted to return after an enforced absence due to hedonist duties at the 2005 Glastonbury Festival of Musical and Performing Arts.

Unfortunately as the only sport we saw over the weekend (aside from a bleary recollection of watching the Lions Test in a muddy Pyramid Field on Saturday morning) was Hippy Slalom Canoeing and some perfunctory mud-wrestling, there is no real basis for a half way acceptable TWTWTW (That Was the Weekend that Was for those who abhor the humble acronym).

I am fascinated by the weekend's most popular verb: "Spearing". Spearing brings to mind long forgotten history lessons on how hunter-gatherer societies snaffled evening tea, or how the Romans might bring about a rebellious slave's demise.

Of the many barbaric methods of murder that our bloodlusty forebears devised, the spear always caused a special shiver. It seemed to incorporate a sleek, dead-eyed grace into the practicality of killing. It killed you with anonymous precision, rather than the brute force of your mace or your spiked skull flail.

Anyway, my point is that amidst all this talk of blood and gore we're using a similar lexicon for modern day professional rugby as for dusty old early modern battlecraft.
I mean, spearing? Gouging? Biting??!! Danny Grewcock alone would surely have smited the Normans at Hastings had he ridden alongside the hapless King Harold!

Of course the nature of rugby, being the most intensely physical and brutal of modern field sports- take the pads off Gridiron boys, then we'll talk- means that there is an inevitable and accepted level of skullduggery, especially around rucks. But when one of the world's greatest players and captain of his side is allegedly "speared" by his opposing captain and one of his lieutenants, thereby ending his participation in a match, but conceivably endangering his life, one has to wonder if the Renaissance and the Enlightenment have yet to reach the egg-chasers.

Of course the accusations of intentional harm have been vehemently denied by the All Blacks camp, and neither Tana Umaga nor Kevin Mealamu were cited, but the incident has served to highlighted the worrisome issue of "clearing out" at rucks, and how they provide a hooligan's charter for all manner of barbarism to be inflicted.

The great shame of it is that Brian O'Driscoll, at the peak of his career, is missing out on captaining his Lions team in the current tests. While heavy hits and collateral damage will always be part of rugby, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Just ask King Harold.


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