Malachy Clerkin: Can Ireland backstop the Brexit boys at the Aviva?
It’s apt that Eddie Jones’s men arrive as our two governments are locked in a battle of wills
Knock-on effect: Boris Johnson dumps the border problem right inside the Irish defensive line. Photograph: Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images
Here we go, then. The Brexiters against The Backstoppers. Of all weeks, this seems to be a balefully apt time to be welcoming the England rugby team and all who sail in her to Dublin.
The newspapers are full of dispatches on a bunch of snarling, discontented folk striking out from the English shires in search of a result with the odds stacked high against them. They’ve also found room to make mention of Eddie Jones and his men.
“We are representing a nation that is not well liked by other countries so that adds its own little spice. We have got to walk towards that challenge and embrace it.” Stirring words indeed, uttered this very week – although not, as you might imagine, by Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson or any of the Tory Probables lining up for their latest test in Brussels.
No, those were the sentiments of England defence coach John Mitchell, giving his own insight into the demeanour he feels his team must bring to the tournament as a whole. This got a little lost during the week, it should be said. Understandably enough, Mitchell’s follow-up statement that Ireland would “try to bore the shit out of” England drew the greater weight of headlines.
Speaking of which, did anyone else get a sense that we as a people were a little too keen to be offended by Mitchell’s clunky attempt at pre-school level mind games? All this carry-on of going on radio with ‘stats’ and ‘facts’ comparing the respective totals of tries scored and so on is entirely the wrong approach. Brexit has shown us that, if nothing else.
Surely we should be learning from the likes of Donald Tusk when it comes to this kind of stuff. The response to any and all insults coming from Blighty should now be to affect a sort of bemused bafflement, as a parent would a fomenting toddler. Kill ’em with bureaucratic doublespeak. It’s the EU way.
As it happens, the Six Nations couldn’t have fallen at a better time in the calendar. It has been noted many times since the calamitous vote in the summer of 2016 that Brexit is far more an English thing than a British thing. After all, what is the Six Nations really, other than an annual exercise in tweaking English noses and sending them homeward to think again? Michel Barnier mightn’t be familiar with Flower of Scotland but you suspect he’d get the thrust of it.
Of course, rugby always has an irresistible facility for offering itself up as metaphor, all the more so in such febrile times. The lingo alone is a Brexit bonanza. All that rucking and mauling, the gainline and the go-forward. And of course, it is well known that the only two groups of people in the world who take accusations of using the dark arts as a compliment are frontrow forwards and chief whips.
Temptation for wordplay
As for the sporting press, it’s fair to say the weekend is unlikely to see us at our best. There. Are. Just. So. Many. Puns. If nothing else, this Six Nations opener affords headline writers and rugby scribes enormous temptation for wordplay, little of which we are likely to resist.
What has been going in Westminster all these months, after all, other than a battle over the breakdown? Presumably, it won’t be enough for England to be beaten, they will have to crash out. And obviously the Irish defensive line is the original hard border.
So be careful out there, kids. Brexit means Brexit. And although nobody knows exactly what that means, it’s probably no harm to assume it means giving England a damn good thrashing while they flail about trying to get themselves in order.
It’s the EU way, after all.