Squeaky Irish bulls and the origins of rugby
Published 21/10/2015 | 02:30
Didn't our team's performance in the Rugby World Cup make us all feel proud to be Irish despite the disappointment of last Sunday's exit to Argentina? There we are, right up there among the best in the world, showing far larger nations what can be achieved in international sport.
Now before you start getting all huffy about foreign games and so on, I must remind you that rugby is a genuine Irish game, despite what those perfidious English might claim.
The truth remains that in the distant mists of time, young Irish men played a game called Caid using a ball made from an inflated bull's scrotum. There must have been a lot of unhappy bulls in those days but the rugby ball still retains its original shape.
The youth of rural villages would turn out and meet at a halfway point whereupon the ball was tossed in the air and the only rule was that you couldn't pass it forward.
The winning team was the one that carried the ball into the opposing village.
When William Webb Ellis lived in Carlow where his father was garrisoned, he played Caid with the local boys and on being sent to Rugby school in England, introduced the practice of picking up the ball and running with it.
Everyone thought this was great fun and as the game developed it kept the name of the school and became popular worldwide.
So from bulls with squeaky voices to British schoolboys bashing the hell
out of each other, rugby is and always has been, a true Irish sport.
Have you noticed the way in which rugby players always obey the referee? This is so unlike soccer or Gaelic football, where referees lives seem to hang on a thread when they are surrounded by groups of angry players disputing a decision.
Rugby players, on the other hand, almost always accept the ref's authority and as a result, the game flows without the annoying spectacle of lengthy tirades or the ref getting knocked to the ground.
During rugby matches, huge men, who look as if they were suckled on raw steak and could knock down buildings with their bare hands, walk obediently off the pitch with little more than a shake of their heads when the ref flashes a red or yellow card.
Just imagine having Paul O'Connell towering over you with that look of menace that only he can produce and having the nerve to order him to the sideline.
Yet he will quietly accept his punishment as do all other professional players. This is how the game is played and other sports could learn and benefit from the example.
Another great thing about rugby is the way in which the English, Scottish and Welsh fans flock to Dublin to watch six nations rugby in our pubs.
They all want to have tickets of course but if they can't get them, they still happily stand watching a big screen, all the while enjoying the good humoured craic and banter while swopping pints with their Irish counterparts.
This is what sport is all about, entertainment at its best, bringing people together in healthy rivalry and once the game is over, whatever the result, the players will all shake hands and wait for the next encounter.
We must also remember that most of our fit young men play GAA sports while rugby remains a minority game here.
This is changing rapidly however, thanks to the wonderful achievements of Munster in recent years and our winning two six nation's championships in 2014 and 2015.
The population of the island of Ireland is just over six million. This is one tenth of the population of England where rugby is hugely popular.
Yet we keep on beating them which says a lot about the players who represent us on the international field.
While our achievements are remarkable, they are put in the shade by the New Zealand All Blacks who from a population of just 4.4 million, still manage to retain their crown as the best rugby team in the world and have done so for decades.
Is this due to the fitness and toughness of sheep farmers?
Or perhaps it's their pre-match war dance called the Haka that gives them their drive and aggression.
Whatever the reason, spare a thought for the sacrifices made by those unfortunate bulls all those years ago.