Oct 042007

Published in the WOW! supplement of the Evening Echo 03/10/2007

It had been a crushing weekend of armchair rugby. First Wales crashed out of the Rugby World Cup in spectacular fashion against Fiji, in what has to be the shock result of the tournament; then Ireland fall to Argentina’s mighty Pumas.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s men in green had disappointed at every stage of the competition leading up to Sunday’s cliff-hanger. Yet no matter how unlikely it seemed, you always believed, somewhere in your gut, that the boys would come good on the big stage. At crunch time, surely, O’Driscoll would perform, O’Gara’s kicking would suddenly click, and O’Connell and Co. would win the line-out’s, scrums, rucks and mauls, giving Ireland a platform from which to launch a spectacular recovery.

It wasn’t to be. The team that went into the competition as Ireland’s best ever World Cup contenders was heading home.

My wife, although disappointed at Ireland’s defeat, was smiling. Why? Because, she surmised, with Ireland and Wales both out of the competition she could reclaim her husband, the girls would have a father again and our weekends could return to normal. Er… wrong!

Things are just getting interesting. Wales and Ireland may well be out, but the feast of international rugby continues for another three weekends… and sorry, but I’m not planning on missing a match.

I’m not a big sports fan. Generally I pay only a passing interest to the results and league tables throughout the year. I’ll watch sport, and enjoy it, if it’s on, but I don’t go out of my way to follow a particular team or camp out in front of the telly to watch every match. I prefer spending time with the family, and we’ll generally do stuff together at the weekend: head out for the day, tackle the never-ending list of jobs in the garden together, or perhaps play a few games indoors if the weather’s bad.

Spending time with the family at the weekend has always been more important to me than sport… well, almost always.

Once every four years I turn into my wife’s worst nightmare: an armchair sports fanatic, glued to every scrum and line-out, applauding every shimmy and sidestep, cheering as the underdogs score that breakaway try against the tournament favourites. She becomes a rugby widow… my children rugby orphans. The fridge, normally full of food, is suddenly overflowing with that staple of the armchair sports fan: beer.

Instead of a dad who wants to engage with them, play silly games and generally mess around, the children are suddenly confronted with a lunatic creature, ranting at them to keep quiet while the match is on – or trying to find other ways to keep them occupied, like sending them to the fridge to fetch another beer.

Occasionally they’ll sit with me, and start watching the match, asking questions non-stop. Who’s winning? Who do I want to win? What colour tops are they wearing? Why are all those men jumping on top of each other? Quite often they’re more entertaining than the game… cheering at all the wrong things, the little one shouting “come on Ireland” at the top of her lungs during the France v Georgia game… that sort of thing.

They soon lose interest though, and wander off to pester their beleaguered mum, who, during Rugby World Cup weekends, gets a taster of what single-parenthood must be like. I suppose I should feel a bit guilty… but I don’t. After all, it only happens every four years.

Roll on next weekend!


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