Six Nations is back so let’s build those phases and put our bodies on the line
It’s our chance to savour George’s long goodbye but when Bowe scores – be cool
Tommy Bowe, or should that be Tommy Booooooowe, scores a try against England at Twickenham in 2010. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Thoughts on the Six Nations season and television. RTÉ should use the archives more: There is an entire generation of people who never saw Ollie Campbell with the sleeves rolled or Nick Popplewell shedding tears because Ireland actually won a game or Trevor Ringland bolting for the corner or Brendan Mullin – who was, remember, the embodiment of a classy #13 while Mr B O’Driscoll was making his first communion – or who got to feel the thrill of the moment when Simon Geoghegan more or less ate Tony Underwood alive or who understood just how shambolic and bereft of hope Irish rugby once was. Dig into the files and show that stuff.
Advance warning – Tommy Bowe is probably going to score a try in this Six Nations: It is going to happen. He is a powerful, handsome tank of a lad from Monaghan and scoring tries is what he does for a living.
That and mowing down moody French wingers and Welsh bucks with dancing feet and English man-monsters. He missed the last two campaigns through injury and is due a Tommy Bowe moment.
So when Tommy Bowe scores a try this year, it behoves the good men commentating on radio and television not to sound as if they’ve been flung into a hot tub swarming with Kardashian sisters. It behoves them not to make those strange, elongated, high-pitched noises anymore, as if they are suspended between ecstasy and death. True, they tend to go off the scale when any Irish lad scores but there is something about the phonetics of Tommy Bowe’s name that invites total abandon.
The actual act of scoring a try, when you think about it, is rarely the best part of the scoring move. It involves carrying a big oval ball across a white line without dropping the damn thing.
There was a period in Irish rugby – say 1986-’90 – when, admittedly, this relatively simple act of athleticism and hand-eye co-ordination seemed beyond the Irish male rugby-playing population. But that is no longer true. Ireland scores bagfuls of tries now. Tommy Bowe’s gonna grab himself some more fairly soon. So when that happens . . . be cool.
Tony Ward and Tony Ward alone should be allowed to refer to a rugby ball as “the football”: Wardie retains the aura that comes with being the only man in 1970s Ireland who possessed a tan and with more or less beating the All Blacks by himself.
Plus, he has the patent on formalising his references to the rugby ball. Back when Ireland lost more than they won and people despaired without ever really worrying, Wardie would enlighten us by saying things like: “Just exquisite use of the football by Ralph Keyes. ”
Or on one of those many lost Saturday afternoons when the pride of Irish rugby was left bedazzled and humiliated by those hatefully slick bastards known as “the French”, Wardie would sometimes emit an involuntary groan of admiration live on air and murmur, somewhat sadly, “Ah, that’s just beautiful handling of the football by Sella.”
He made it seem as if no Irish man would ever handle “the football” – or anything else for that matter – with Sella’s blend of carefree silkiness and in doing so explained so much about what it was to be an Irishman as opposed to a French man.
Go easy on the glossary: The rugby lexicon has become the most annoying in world sport. Not sure whose fault this is.
Just some of the many, many rugby words we could all do without hearing so much on TV: “Phase”. Second phase. Seventeenth phase. We get it. They still have possession of the damn ball. A “phase” used to be what your older brother was going through when he dyed his hair blue, got kicked out of school, played Nirvana for six straight hours, bought you a cone and then beat you up. It’s a useless word and further reduces the notion that the essence of rugby is about spontaneity and creativity.
“The hard yards”: All of us who were alive then will hold a place in our hearts for Donal Lenihan ever since that charge-down of his in Twickenham which silenced the insufferably smug sound of English singing on a frozen Saturday in 1986. But that is no excuse.
There has to be some other way of explaining the fact that the butty, muscular guys have managed to advance the ball all of four metres before the referee blew up for a scrum. “The boring yards” would be more accurate.
“The channels” . . . “Bodies on the line” . . . “Go to the well.” Just . . . enough.
The modern jersey: There are many reasons why contemporary international rugby teams wear their jerseys ultra-tight and these can be boiled down to (a) not giving opponents a handful of cloth to grab hold of and (b) looking as ripped and intimidating as possible.
It is perfectly natural that Six Nations fans would wish to express their passion for the team by wearing a replica jersey bearing the number of Paul O’Connell or Andrew Trimble on the back. But it should be remembered that these particular jerseys were not designed to accommodate or, indeed, to flatter, the fuller gentleman.
It is a matter of when and not if we encounter that gruesome television close-up of that unfortunate fan no longer in the first bloom of youth and lost in the reveries of a Welsh breakaway try or an English maul from five metres out, entirely unaware that the cameras are fixed on him as he tries to move his arms in celebration even as his new regulation jersey flies northward and rides unmercifully high around his rib cage, exposing hirsute naval and much, much more.
When it comes to the shirts, the fans should play it safe.
Hook &Co: Rumour has it that this is the last season of the curmudgeon-extraordinaire as the centrepiece or RTÉ’s rugby coverage. Ye gads. Believe that when you see it.
No television sporting panel has ever donned as much silk and dandified patterns as the McGurk-Hook-Pope triumvirate.
In full flow, they made you feel as if you had somehow stumbled upon a conversation in a private member’s club. The Hookster is one of the very few people on earth on whom a monocle would not look like an affectation.
In time, the RTÉ rugby panel will go down as one of the stranger exercises in sound and vision. But for better or worse, they have provided the soundtrack to Irish rugby in the professional era.
They should go all out for this, their final season as a team, haul out the brandy and snifters and prepare to go down like gentlemen.