Sunday 24 September 2017

Billy Keane: 'Pamper Night' overshadows the future of Six Nations

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The context for the peace was the war. The headlines screamed: 'Punch-up at Six Nations Press Conference'. There was no let-up from the media, who are well-known for not letting up.

'A disgrace to the game of rugby' was the response from a polemical rugby analyst and 'more like a boxing stunt pulled by Don King,' wrote another.

That year's Heineken Cup had been particularly nasty, with horrible things said and done. Revenge was on the agenda. The then French captain, with movie star looks and a pronounced French accent which women, it seems, find most attractive, had been seen snogging various girlfriends of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Italian players at the apres-match dinners during the previous season's Six Nations.

But the fight was started by the rugged Irish prop Phil McGuinness, who asked the French playboy, "What was wrong with my girlfriend, that you didn't try your case?" The Frenchman replied: "She is too airy."

That's not too bad, thought Phil. In certain parts of Ireland airy means light-hearted and not taking life too seriously, but then the English captain told Phil that the French are unable to pronounce their h's.

Phil thought for a minute as he stroked his left ear, the top of which had been bitten off by a cannibalistic French prop in a previous campaign after Phil was accused of making contact with the Frenchman in the groin area.

Now Phil was no linguist but he did figure out that the French playboy called his honey 'hairy'. The fact her name was Mary made it worse. Phil was a tad paranoid. He got it into it into his head that the French were calling his sweetheart Hairy Mary. He swung at the Frenchman and before long all the players were fighting with each other for reasons to do with matters on and off the pitch.

It is now generally agreed that the debacle led to the dirtiest Six Nations in living or dead memory. There was carnage and a year on in this, the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the signs were not good.

Seasoned observers noted there wasn't a word spoken between the representatives of the countries at this year's Six Nations press conference. It seems that while there were no off-the-field problems, there were long-standing, bitter on-field grievances that were festering away.

The players refused to speak to each other in the hotel that night. The six legends dined alone at six different tables.

Paul O'Connell was upset. He was after all a Young Munster man and the tradition in his club was to shake hands after every game, even if crimes that would normally merit six months in the slammer had been committed against you on the field of play. Paul was old-school and the most respected leader of men in the game. He went around to all the tables. All six of the Six Nations heroes gathered in Paul's room later that night.

"Boys," spoke Paul, "the bad blood must end," and the great man quoted Buddha: "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

Sam Warburton, the Welsh captain, was moved to speak. "Paulie your words remind me of Dylan Thomas."

'Like stalks of tall, dry straw,

At poor peace I sing

To you strangers (though song

Is a burning and crested act)'

There was silence in the room. Thus spoke Warburton.

"We must make peace, men."

England's Chris Robshaw sobbed with the emotion of it all. Scotland's giant lock Richie Gray put his arms around the Frenchman and said "I love you man". The French star, as is their custom, kissed everyone three times on the cheeks.

Soon six of the toughest men in world rugby were hugging and crying. It was as if this pent-up desire for reconciliation had been bursting to break out.

Already the rugby historians were comparing these tender moments to the game of soccer played a 100 years ago between the Germans and the British during a brief lull in the ferocious First World War fighting at Ypres.

What followed that night became known as The Pampering. The French were behind it all. It's a well-known fact that French men wax and moisturise. Soon the players were in flannel robes and fluffy slippers. Richie Gray was shown how to remove nasal hair from Chris Robshaw, who after some instruction from the team of beauticians on duty, did a lovely job with Warburton's fingernails. Paul O'Connell lit perfumed candles and turned out the lights. The stereo played soothing flute music from an Andes chill band. There were facials and Indian head massages.

The players were given anti-wrinkle cream as a present from Italy's Sergio Parisse, who sang 'Amore' in a haunting tenor voice. The six gladiators talked out their cares, loves and lives until long into the night. These hard men spoke of the long-term damage to their bodies and wondered if they would be in pain in the years to come from the savagery of the game they made their living from.

At the end of it all they swore to be friends forever and toasted each other's health over a glass of Prosecco with a strawberry on the bottom.

Word leaked out as it always does. It seems the girl who was teaching the lads how to braid chest hair sold her soul to a tabloid.

The rugby world was appalled. Ticket sales slumped. The warring rugby unions were on the one word for the first time in years. The joint communiqué condemned Pamper Night. "The Six Nations," claimed the ruling bodies, "would be turned into Tip Rugby. Touchy feely has no place in our game."

Is an injury-free Six Nations doomed? Find out over the next seven weeks.

In the meantime, sources tell us that these tough men will still seek to find tranquillity away from the battleground.

It seems that ferocious and fearless warrior Paul O'Connell has organised an end-of-season Tupperware party for his fellow players.

Irish Independent

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