I am much too wimpy ever to have played a minute’s more rugby football than I was compelled to at school. But I do like watching it on television.
However, whereas it’s free, open and running rugby that people go on about, I’m not that bothered. I mean, that Barbarians try… yes, it was good. But for spectacle?
Scotland-Australia 2009. Scotland won 9-8 having spend most of the match on their own five-metre line. Heroic defending gradually wearing Australia down. I don’t think I’ve seen a better match. The 2003 World Cup final, won by England in the last minutes of extra time with a drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson was a classic which could have been scripted in Hollywood, the tension high right to the end – one of the greatest games of football in any code, ever – but that Murrayfield match pips it for me.
Rugby is about the scrum, and it’s a shame that in the modern game it’s lost its drive. Nothing is more exciting than watching a rampant pack, confident and cocky enough to turn down a kick at goal in favour of another scrum, wearing down and demoralising the defence. And the defence throwing every last ounce of energy back at it, pushing against hope for turnover ball and a clearance to touch but just to stop the pushover.
The tension of those five-metre-line scraps I don’t think is equalled in any other spectator sport. The fact that there’s always the possibility of a break-away try… or a drop goal… That mayhem of muscle that’s so fierce and so physical but so disciplined – the slightest error gives away a penalty, game over…