You Too Can Love Leinster
Two things which illustrate why more people don't just absolutely adore Leinster's rugby team (who are playing possibly the aesthetically finest rugby seen this side of a Fijian Sevens blitz). The Dubliner magazine (they of last year's hilarious 'satirical' feature on how Tiger Woods missus was some sort of filthy porn star, a joke which Woods failed to get) ran with a front page feature on "how Brian O'Driscoll made Leinster the hippest rugby team in Europe."
Now, rugby has undoubtedly come on a bit in recent years, but for the love of God, hip? The word is against the very nature of the sport. And it will take a lot more than O'Driscoll fluttering around some trendy Dublin bars and Hooky and Popey wearing jeans on the telly to make it so. Hip is a performance art 'happening' in a Manhattan loft featuring two Brazilian transexuals reciting Ginsberg's Howl backwards. Not fifteen men climbing over each other in mud. Although when you put it like that....
Secondly, this Allez les Bleus business. Yes, very funny. You went over to France, and demonstrating that you were educated, multilingual types fond of a little deligtful irony, appropriated the chant that amounts to the French Olé Olé. Sure, and when your team's back is against the wall and they're defending for their lives, they'll want to hear you snorting out a delicate play on cross-cultural sporting mores.
So that's why, despite the poetry of their rugby - Saturday's hammering of Edinburgh being their magnum opus so far - many people would still rather invest their good wishes and support in the cause of the stout yeomen of Munster, with their set-piece squeezes and monstrous mauls.
Which is a damn shame.
Surely, for rugby as a sport, the success of Leinster in this season's Heineken Cup would be an Astonishingly Good Thing. I cannot fathom any worthwhile argument to counter the rationale that any neutral should hope that Leinster's 'total' rugby (as a giddy Tony Ward repeatedly called it in commenatary on Saturday) brings them past the many sterner challenges of the coming months and to glory in Twickenham on May 20th.
The use of the phrase 'total rugby' is apposite, in this case. In the event that - as most sage observers fear - Leinster will meet some mean, nasty bruisers who slow down the ball, stick it up their jumpers and get into the faces of their brilliant runners, would not their defeat be the sport's equivalent of the heart-rending failure of the Dutch 'total football' team to fulfil their potential in the World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978?
Would it not be the harsh, chilling wind of reality blowing in the confirmation that, in sport, the butterfly will always be crushed on the wheel?
There is, of course, the argument of the sport's purists: that a well-executed maul is as pleasing to behold as any improvisational passing movement; that the real soul of the game exists in the tight, sinewy confrontations invisible to the eye, not the gallivanting in the loose that comes as a result of the hard work.
To me, this is like an accountant eulogising the beauty of an immaculate balance sheet. To other accountants, impressive; but I've just gone to put the kettle on.
In any event, the only right way to play any sport is the winning way. No team is obliged to entertain, no coach expected to put razzmatazz before results. But Leinster's stated aim is to do their job in the most pleasing way to the eye as possible. To use their skill as a means to the end of victory. When any team does that, they must be cherished and supported, and their brave quest championed by all neutrals.
As the cameras panned around Donnybrook in the latter stages of Saturday's win, I experienced a thaw in any iciness I may have felt for the province due to the nonsense of the Dubliner and the infernal Allez les Bleus. Looking at the well-fed, happy faces, several generations of the most affluent sector of Ireland's demographic, I thought: why not? Why shouldn't they be happy and content? It's not their fault they were born with opportunity. Haven't they worked hard, got their qualifications, made the best of things? Don't they have worries, fears, hang-ups?
And the killer: don't they deserve this team? And just because they have this team, why can't the rest of us love it too?