“For me, the pure basics of rugby are not passing, catching, kicking; the basics are simply working yourself into the ground and doing whatever it takes for 80 minutes. The only reason that you don’t change things, or that you don’t work hard enough, is that it doesn’t matter enough to you.”
I started playing Rugby Union in 1985/1986 at ISA (Instituto Superior de Agronomia) when doing a VAX-VMS class. I was a fly-half, like Jonny Wilkinson. It was my last year before going to college, and I liked it so much that I thought I’d do my studies there. Unfortunately Agriculture was never my forte so I’d to go someplace else, but the Rugby Union drive has always been with me since then. In my humble opinion Rugby is the perfect sport in terms of camaraderie and subtlety. For me it represents the ultimate achievement sports-wise (Tennis and Football come a distant second in terms of practicing them). Rugby encapsulates life in a kind of art form as far as I’m concerned. No other sport raises me to such heights as can be achieved by a fly-half in the rarified atmosphere of a Rugby World Cup during a drop goal (Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in the 2003 against Australia comes to mind as well as the bulldog-like nature of Jonah Lomu leaving Mike Catt stranded; both were one of my highest prized memories, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Make us all feel wonderful. We’ll never forget.” No Portuguese team playing; England is instead my team for motives not worth going into here). No other sport allows a man (or a woman) the kind of elations and exaltations rugby does. And no other sport permits a guy 80 minutes of hard slog wheezing from one lineout to another, in order to get hopelessly and completely trashed. Better than this only 5 Dunkel Biers in a row…
Forgive me the rambling.
When I start talking about Rugby Union I usually get sidetracked, so please excuse the mutterings and thoughts of a mid-forties, and useless fly-half (and sometimes scrum-half). Those were the days…The feeling of backs-against-the-wall is something priceless. On top of that, Rugby Union is one of the most highly skilled, and stylish sports I’d the pleasure of playing. The word "stylish" might surprise people who don't know the game and see only a bunch of guys on a field charging into each other, but I can think of no better word. It is 15 people on one pitch, each with a different role, but coordinating together into an amazingly team effort and subtle whole. What I enjoy the most were the laughs and friendship that Rugby Union brought. I simply loved practicing after a tedious day of studying, and being able to lose the stress and worry of the day in the rhythm of rucks and mauls and passes.
Reading Jonny’s book (with help from Owen Slot), it all came back to me in the best possible way. While watching rugby watching and Jonny in particular, I always knew Jonny had some “issues” (between quotes because we all have issues; only some are better at hiding them than others). He was always so fiercely reserved that, until I read his autobiography, I’d never really seen beneath the surface, beneath the stance: bum out, hands clasped, breath just escaping out the side of the mouth as the left foot hardens itself for impact. Who would have thought? I’m not sure how much is Slot’s writing and how much is Jonny’s. Probably none at all when it comes to Jonny. As I kept reading that was one of the things I kept thinking of. Just to be able to know Jonny a little better was worth the reading. As autobiographies go, it’s not one of the best, but it’s also not one of the worst (the emphasis on Jonny’s obsessive side seemed to me a bit excessive to say the least; at times it started grating on my nerves. Slot’s hand at play here?).
He’s still very much one of my heroes, now more than ever. And I’m not thinking in Rugby Union terms.
NB: Review written on 17/08/2015 before the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup (England vs Fiji).