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Instead, a paean to a sport I love. You never know; CC may even get a mention.

The Rugby World Cup starts tomorrow. The ITV media website link is here. You can’t watch the videos if you’re reading this in Firefox, but otherwise, the intro to the game by Will Greenwood is helpful for total novices.

So what’s special about Rugby?

It is a combination of human vices and virtues compressed into eighty-odd minutes of real-time ritualised warfare. Of all international team sports, it is the most physically brutal and damaging, a succession of confrontations between honed athletes, one-on-one and in groups, which demands skill, technique, determination and fearlessness.

If you are a gridiron fan, this comparison might help: some of the players are 6’5″, weigh in at 250 lbs plus, and can run a sub-eleven hundred metres. The only body protection allowed is 50mm of foam padding sewn into an undershirt and a foam head protector (which few players bother with). The biggest players are 6’9″ and 300 lbs. Alongside them, you’ll see other players no more than 5’6″ and 160 lbs. Some are hugely strong in the upper body, some electrically fast-footed, some incredibly quick-thinking and tactically aware. The game is also played by seven-year old boys and girls, and amateurs at every imaginable level.

In addition to the physical, rugby is one of the few team sports which rewards intelligence. This isn’t true for all the players; sometimes thinking can get in the way, but until recently, when the game went professional, it was the only sport I know of where doctors and lawyers lined up alongside coal miners and steel workers. In this sense, it is a classless game. The best teams all have playmakers who have to be able to assess, evaluate and respond to unexpected situations and opportunities in a fraction of a second. It is one of the few sports which requires both detailed planning and preparation, yet is often won by surprise and initiative.

It is also an inclusive game; unlike many sports, you can be big and lumbering and still have a role to play, a specialist position that suits your physique. You can be short and bulky, wiry or tall and lean; because of the range of positions, there is a place for most physical types. Obviously, whoever you are, fitness and courage are baseline requirements.

It is also a game which cannot be won by a single player, no matter how good he is, though outstanding individual acts often turn games. The best teams combine all the attributes we admire; brains, strength, energy, determination, willpower. In an international match, several players may never have their name mentioned once, but their team mates and opponents know that their contribution makes a difference. And this takes me to one of the most appealing parts of the game; the friendliness.

It is normal, after 30 people have hit, tackled, trampled and pounced on one another with ruthless cruelty in their hearts, for all of them, on both teams, to get together and drink, buy each other rounds, talk about the game and the world. Enemies of five minutes ago become respected friends and co-players. there is always the feeling in rugby that it is, after all is said and done, a game, and the game ends when the final whistle blows. It is also normal for the referee to have a drink bought and share discussions in the bar – normally about difficult decisions he had to make, or how he has interpreted the rules.

i think that is enough for you to get an idea of why I love the game. Now for the CC bit. People talk about the scientific ‘debate’. If this were compared to a rugby match, the ‘debate’ between scientists and denialists or skeptics would be like the All-Blacks first team taking on St. Pancras School under-11 reserve team.

Finally, don’t be surprised if it sometimes goes quiet in the cave; there are three or four matches a day for the next few weeks to get through…

Stand back and admire…



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September 2007