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Malachy Clerkin: Please, rugby. Don’t ruin the Rugby World Cup for the rest of us

The country is genuinely excited for the next seven weeks but the more you claim rugby as the most popular sport in Ireland, the less goodwill you’ll find around the place. Do. Not. Do. It.

Don’t do it, rugby. Do not do it. You want to do it. You’re bursting to do it. But please, please don’t do it. Don’t go ruining the Rugby World Cup for the rest of us.

The pull must be strong, we see that. It’s like there’s a big red button throbbing in front of your face, aching for your big secondrow shovel palm to whomp down upon it and release the roar of RugbyRugbyRugby to every corner of the four proud provinces. Just know this, rugby – you don’t need to press it.

There is a world, remember, in which you can just be a sport. To thine own self be true, old friend. You are rugby – enjoy that simple fact. Relish your awesome physical dance, your intricate running patterns, your enviable approach to referees. Bathe in your camaraderie, delight in your sleight of hand. Take boundless joy in the fact that yours is a genuine team sport, one where even the best individual only ever succeeds as a bit-part in a collective.

Is all of that not enough? Can you not take it and be happy? Would it be so hard to just go and put on a tournament – a tournament that we’re all very much excited for, we should stress – and be relaxed and comfortable with it? Why must you do what you always do? Why must you be so incorrigibly rugby about it all?


Rugby, you have no chill. That’s your problem, right there. You have a great sport but you can’t bring yourself to leave it at that. You can’t let a big tournament come and go with it being Rugby Country this and Team Of Us that and All It Takes the other. We’ll be honest with you here, rugby – for the rest of us, that stuff is a ferocious pain in the hoop to be listening to.

Oh, look, we know. We know the other sports would sicken a small hospital too when they get going. Don’t worry about that, rugby. We know the GAA would have you believe that it’s the only sport on the planet that ever heard of a volunteer. And that the soccer crowd won’t so much as look at you unless you’ve been to the Carlisle Grounds in the pissings of rain every Friday for the past decade. And that horse racing is bent as a saxophone convention. And sure cricket is only for perverts and oddballs.

Here’s the thing, rugby. All those sports know who they are. They know where they stand. They are who they are, they live where they live. Most of all, they don’t go swanking around the place making bigger claims for themselves than reality can sustain.

If anything, they go the other way. You have Gaelic football, aka the self-flagellators’ support group, talking itself down since Mick O’Connell stopped rowing his boat. You have the sorrowful mysteries of Irish soccer, wherein you are not one bit surprised to find you’re allowed roughly eight minutes to enjoy Evan Ferguson before he gets injured.

Even hurling, which has a famously grand welcome for itself, is actually pretty self-contained and is mostly just a sort of circular admiration society. It can’t even be bothered claiming West Cork, never mind the rest of the land. You’d never hear even the most devoted hurling acolyte claiming, say, Tyrone as Hurling Country. Hurling Country doesn’t even really know where Tyrone is. And yet, despite it all, nobody anywhere has a bad word to say about hurling.

That could be you, rugby. If you’d only just chill the beans there and let the next seven weeks play out, you’d find that plenty of the country is quietly behind you anyway. You don’t need all this frantic jitterbugging and hopping from one foot to the other, braying into the winds about your soaring popularity.

We could have set our watch by you this week, rugby. Sunrise, sunset, here comes the rugby, running its mouth as usual. And so we started the week with that survey carried out by a – wait for it – rugby sponsor claiming that rugby is the most popular sport in Ireland. Of course it is.

That was followed up later in the week by research from – and this is not a gag – a website called The Grueling Truth, claiming to have numbers that show that Ireland is “the third most rugby-obsessed nation in the world”. Based on some kind of Google search trend data thing, Ireland is apparently more into rugby than New Zealand, South Africa or any of the Brits.

According to the Grueling Truthers, we trail only Papua New Guinea and Fiji – and considering the bulk of Papua New Guinea’s interest is in rugby league, we should surely be seen as the moral holders of the second spot on the podium at least. Something to aim for across the next four-year cycle, no doubt.

Why, rugby? Why must we have this? We are a modern country. We are a welcoming people. All sporting colours, creeds and backgrounds are embraced. The days of most of Ireland dismissing rugby as the preserve of a few private school poshos in Dublin, Belfast and Cork and the odd mullocker from Limerick are gone. We like you, rugby. The TV audiences over the coming month will bear this out, don’t worry about that.

But would it kill you to just take that for what it is? A confluence of events. An Ireland team that is genuinely exciting to watch. A building sense that it’s not ridiculous to think they could go and win a World Cup. A thrilling moment in time, which surely won’t last in perpetuity, in which we can enjoy – enjoy! – the idea of taking on South Africa and either New Zealand or France as equals. This is such magnificent fun for everyone to behold. Let us have it.

There’s a way for you to play this, rugby. Be cool. Be humble. Be what you are. Do that and the people will come of their own accord. You don’t have to browbeat them into acclaiming your popularity or gerrymander the numbers or juke the stats. This could even be the World Cup that does it.

In the words of the prophet O’Gara, l’opportunité, c’est f**king énorme.

Don’t blow it, rugby. Don’t do it.