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David Miller: Learning The Language Of Rugby

David Miller Online. Learning The Language Of Rugby

The last time I placed a bet on Canterbury to win a rugby title, it proved to be ten dollars that was not well spent. It was during this year’s Super 12 and the Crusaders had just dispatched the hapless Chiefs. For some reason all the rugby experts in this part of the country, and there is no shortage of them, were saying we were back on track and that it was only a matter of weeks before the trophy was back at Jade Stadium for a fourth time. Unfortunately I took heed of them and given that I was reduced to ripping up my ticket in frustration a few weeks later I vowed never to do it again. Six months later I was once again at the TAB. Once again I listened to Canterbury’s armada of rugby experts only this time around I cannot say enough about those wonderfully insightful people.

Wherever you travel in New Zealand you will find an expert on rugby. It does not matter what the age, occupation or even sex of a person is, they will be able to explain everything from the rules, the selections John Mitchell should be making and why the line-outs are such a shambles. The pedigree of this person may be that they have actually played the game and can offer advice gained the hard way from the bottom of a ruck or maul through to someone whose idea of a good night out is to watch the big game at the local pub and instead of deciding whether to pass or kick are faced with the dilemma of choosing between a pint or a jug.

Until two months ago, I was content just to know how many points a team got when they scored a try as opposed to a conversion or a penalty and some basics like what happens before a scrum is formed. However since I began seeing the lovely Aimee the need for me to increase my knowledge of rugby and certainly my vocabulary has increased dramatically. This is because she is from a family that is fanatical about the game and while she is not too sure what they will think when she tells them I prefer to watch soccer I am terrified.

Fortunately for me her father still does not know I exist which is a good thing. Not only is he reputed to be bigger than I am, but I still do not know the difference between a ruck and maul or the circumstances that have to happen before one becomes the other. You take this into account along with the fact that her three uncles are also die hard rugby fans and her oversized brother sports cauliflower ears and no neck at the ripe old age of 23 and you will agree that I am in trouble.

Naturally Aimee’s parents braved the miserable conditions to cheer on Toddy and the boys last Saturday night at Jade Stadium. I too was watching the game, however I chose to do it from the comfort of my living room chair and while it was great to see Canterbury lift the title it was of more importance to me that Everton had a win in the Premier League.

However, all is not lost and over the past couple of months I have been out and about in Christchurch gaining an education in the intricacies of our national game. To begin with I decided to try the local pub during one of the matches to pick up some tips from the punters. This ended up proving to be a complete waste of time. We got there, ordered a drink and then settled in to watch the game keenly keeping an ear open to the interpretations of the referee’s decisions. Whenever the referee blew the whistle in favour of Canterbury the whole place erupted into cheer and everyone began patting each other on the back as if it was they who had scored the winning try. When the call went in favour of the opposition the referee quickly became the most vilified man on earth.

After sitting through eighty minutes of this, it struck me that these people knew almost as little as I did and their emotions and view of the refereeing decision simply depended on which direction he stuck his arm. I kept asking the people I was with why that decision had been made and I heard everything from offside and hands in the ruck through to the ref is a complete arsehole who should not be put in charge in the first place. Although I was alarmed at the lack of progress, I did not give up on my first attempt and in the weeks ahead I braved several more Canterbury taverns in search of the information I required. It was time to consider Plan B.

Plan B merely consists of being prepared for the fact that I might be forced to the face everyone at one of Aimee’s family get togethers and confess that the previous Friday I was watching the Kingz and that soccer is called the beautiful game for good reason. To my way of thinking, if you beat three men and then lay on the pass which scores the winner in soccer, then you have demonstrated real skill. If you are simply some brute of a forward who crashes over the advantage line at Eden Park knocking over three players with half your pack holding onto your shorts behind you have merely been to the gym. On reflection I do not think this policy is the one to opt for as I can imagine that if I air such views while somewhere deep in Mid Canterbury I am likely to be used as the backyard scrum machine.

As you can see, time was running out and I was becoming desperate. I still could not differentiate the rules and only recently I learned the difference between an open side flanker and a blindside one. However my saviour has come in the form of television commentator and former rugby great Murray Mexted who takes the time explain the basics to someone like myself. I really enjoy Murray’s commentary and he has become a real character with telling the viewers that the halfback has received a ‘plethora’ of ball. I thought this was a great call and it was refreshing to see some three-syllable words added into the game. My advice to Murray is the next time you decide to use a word such as plethora, make sure the interpretation is on the screen next to the score and time clock.

But above all else Murray and his fellow commentators must keep on explaining the rules as they come into play. I now know that a ruck occurs when the ball goes to ground and that players must stay on their feet when they enter. I am slowly but surely preparing myself for the rugby talk when I meet Aimee’s family and I am sure I will make a good impression when I point out that the player entered from the side of the ruck and was penalised accordingly. If for some reason I get nervous and lose the power of speech when confronted with all the rugby jerseys, then all will not be lost. After all, if I do forget the exact reason why a penalty was awarded I am sure they will be impressed when I begin using all the rugby jargon Aimee has taught me. “Rugby is a game of two halves”, “South Island rugby was the winner on the day” and my all time favourite, “I’d like to thank the ladies for the after match tea”. How can I go wrong?

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