| 4.2°C Dublin

Crouch, touch and engage ... foot in mouth, when it comes to rugby lingo

LEINSTER take on Toulouse today in the Heineken Cup; at stake is a place in the tournament final. If Leinster can come out of the blocks with some fast ball down the flanks, disrupt the French line of play and cut down on their phase-to-ruck ratio, then I think they've every chance.

And if you're nodding your head sagely after reading that sentence then, like me, you're a rugby bluffer. I made up that opening line by combining phrases and jargon I've heard countless times from watching rugby matches over the past 20 years, but I haven't a clue what any of it means.


Please forgive me; I'm afraid I can't speak rugby.

Like many men, and women, I've enjoyed Irish rugby success over the past decade. Although I've never playing rugby competitively, I've watched every Six Nations match, and plenty of Five Nation matches too; my support for the national team has been unwavering.

I was even there when Ireland beat South Africa in that famous match at Croke Park in the winter of 2009. But throughout all this I've been hiding a dark, secret shame. I'm bamboozled by the language of rugby commentary and analysis. Can you imagine how difficult this is when watching a match with friends?

There we are in the pub or, as on some occasions my own house, watching Ireland struggle against France, and all around me the learned mutterings and offerings are thrown down as gauntlets.


"We're not quick enough in the breakdown," says one of the lads, with heads nodding in agreement. "Yeah they'd want to get that breakdown sorted out," I blurt out self-consciously, privately reprimanding myself for thinking a 'breakdown' was a booze-fuelled dancefloor move only performed late in the evening at a wedding reception.

"Ah come on, the blindside is totally exposed!" someone will yell. "Curse that blindside!" I offer, drawing a few suspicious glances. Surely an exposed blindside is something you need to worry about during a driving test, I think to myself.

And so the game goes on, and I feel more and more like a fraud. It's not that I don't understand the basic rules of rugby, but why is it I'm always learning about a new stipulation or sanction?

I'm so out of my depth that there have been occasions in a match where the ref will blow his whistle during a messy ruck or botched scrum and I'll leap off the couch shouting "Good man ref, about time!" while around me the lads remain seated wondering why I'm cheering a decision that has gone against us.

I'll sit down sheepishly with quizzical looks all round. "He was coming in from the side, the ref had no choice," one of the fellows will say in my direction, stopping just short of calling me an idiot.

"Oh yeah," I'll agree enthusiastically. "I totally knew he was coming outside from the in line; I was just reacting to something earlier. More tortilla chips anyone?"

I remember once being at a rugby club disco when I was in my teens. There was a local club we used frequent and generally the crowd were decent enough; they'd politely request a punch-up before leaping on you in the car park or ask before introducing your face to a plastic chair.

I was in the gents on one occasion and a bloke much bigger than me was occupying the adjacent urinal, and sadly some of mine.

"Do you play yourself?" he growled.

"Oh yeah I do," I answered confidently, "I play second row."

He looked me up and down like I had just announced that I was the Irish weightlifting, kickboxing and caber-tossing champion.

"Oh I see," he said, with a bit of a smirk. I realise now that a scrawny, short bespectacled waif could never be a second row.

In fact, it's unlikely he'd make any position on the team. Luckily I got away with just a few Chinese burns and a dead arm that night.


So back to the drawing board for the match today. Once that blindside is kept open and the flanks aren't exposed, Leinster will be laughing.

Or, to put it in a way that I'd like to hear more often, once the blue team scores more points than the other team, they'll win.

Now isn't that a lot easier to understand?