When it comes to rugby (union – I’ve really never got league), I would quite confidently label myself as a Huge Fan. The infatuation started during England’s (glorious) World Cup campaign of 2003. Dad, Laura and I would converge in the front living room just in time for the teams’ anthems at whatever ungodly hour met the Australian peak show time plus time difference, and watch. In silence. Bcos dad. And on that epic Saturday when we as a nation watched Jonny’s frankly spectacular drop goal, we had even been given the green light to bring accompaniments into the living room (cereal and duvets. Hella early, remember) – a sign of just how seriously the Cox household was taking the game and the necessity for zero interruptions until the final whistle sounded. From memory, I’m not convinced that mum joined us for this one (she’s technically Scottish and I feel like there might *MIGHT* have been rumblings about bad omens but I mean, it was a long time ago and who really remembers the details etc etc). It’s possibly worth pointing out here that I was routinely banned from that particular front living room on the run-up to hosting guests – admittedly an entirely fair precaution given my propensity toward spilling – and would regularly shift from sitting on the sofa to the floor “just in case”. So yeh, cereal on laps on sofas was HUGE.
And then it happened. Circa 10.30am, 23rd November 2003. My ballet class was 10am on a Sunday at that time, and I think I’m right in saying that I had never previously missed one. But for the steamy 15 each way of extra time (peppered by physio pitch invasions as the players began sporadically dropping with large bouts of cramp) I made an exception. Then, the following week, I (aided skillfuly by mum) bullied dad into taking us to Heathrow at 3am to watch the team come home. Despite squashing my dreams that it’d be me the team, and maybe – I dunno – a few families or whatever in the arrivals hall, the crowd of abandoned SUVs and rugby fans spilling out from terminal 4 was incredible. We sang swing low as Lawrence emerged holding a baby. Magical.
At this point I WISH I had a photo / video / anything to show you from that morning (night?) but camera phones weren’t really a thing back there… So instead here’s some footage of me *just* about avoiding fan girling some England players at a six nations dinner..
Back to 2003. So we’d won the Rugby World Cup (big cheer). Then the next week, we lost to Ireland and I experienced my first ever sporting ‘low’. I sulked, and presumably dad did too, bcos we got a comisseratory (may have made that word up) takeaway dinner. Indian, if I remember correctly. It was damn good.
Fast forward 18 years, and here we are in 2021. Rugby has both changed immeasurably but also stayed comfortingly the same. There are no fans in the stadiums, but BBC & ITV have both done marvellous jobs of recreating the audio experience (on which note, I have many questions. Who decides if it’s a boo or a cheer? Are we actually watching at a slight delay, or is there a highly tuned-in audio mixer frantically pressing crowd reaction buttons in real time? And – entirely separately – please can Eddie Jones wear a reusable branded England facemask so they all look nice and uniform in the control centre? Thanks in advance..).
Last weekend’s triple header Saturday was one of my favourite days out of all the lockdown days we’ve had so far. Because despite living alone and all-but self-isolating for a year, the day felt busy, full, and exactly what a Saturday should be. And. For the first time in my life, I genuinely enjoyed watching a game that was neither England nor Scotland. After the seemingly inevitable loss (admittedly after Ireland’s red card at 64 minutes for Bundee Aki over a high tackle, specifically head contact with shoulder, it did almost look like we could take the match) to an extremely energetic Ireland (or were we just tired?), the game that would decide whether Wales might take the grand slam rolled around.
France v Wales 2021 will never be described as a boring game. I generally struggle to become truly invested in a match unless it’s my team (or – with slightly less gusto – my half team. The Calcutta cup is my happy place bcos I literally cannot lose. Altho obv I’m always slightly gutted if England don’t take the win). But this time? I was IN. I suspect maybe my keen interest was from a deep desire to prevent Wales taking the championship (my sister lives in Wales and I’ve never managed to shake what probably borderlines on too much competitiveness between us. Exibit a: on annual holidays to Portugal, I would take myself off to our own “sin bin” (the villa’s kiddie sized pool next to the main) one if I heard the delicate balance of twin praise from mum or dad be squewed too far in her favour. Please note: she was just as bad as me). I assume this because my attitude toward the French rugby team has never really shifted since that 2003 campaign, when dad re-located various household speakers to the wall that separated us from our French neighbours (our house is semi-detached) so we could blast out the English anthem. So a genuine desire for a French win it was not. Regardless, in the literal final play, with a total of 27 players on the pitch, plus a frankly spectacular ref (Luke Pearce) who’s patience apparently knows no bounds, France stumped Wales and put paid to their grand slam plans. Hurrah.
Of course, the confusing thing about the six nations is that there is still a winner even if no-one gets the grand slam. And the trouble is that France now have the potential to win on points if they beat Scotland this coming weekend by a margin of 21, as they’ll get a bonus point. Personally, I think (slash, dad thinks and I’ve regurgitated. That’s a reasonably common theme with my rugby opinions tbf) France should be penalised for not following COVID restrictions which forced them to pull out of the scheduled match on 28th Feb. That said, I’m glad we get this rogue Friday evening match and it wasn’t just forfeited. Something to look forward to.