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Fifteen observations, sporting and political, from the opening game of the Rugby World Cup

Posted on 19 September 2015 | 9:09am

Fifteen (see what I did there – not eleven, not thirteen, but fifteen – because this is rugby union we’re talking now)

1. It confirmed the genius of Danny Boyle. The RWC opening ceremony was fine set against the standards of most sporting opening ceremonies. But in scope, scale and creativity – and cost of course – I doubt we will see anything quite as brilliant as Boyle’s London 2012 ceremony in our lifetime.

2. Jeremy Corbyn remains the talk of the town. But when the town is Twickenham, and the crowd a rugby union one, fair to say this is not natural Corbyn territory. On the long walk up the ramp to my seat in the top tier, comments passed my way varied from amused (at my expense it should be said – eg ‘well you lot are the past not the future now’ – to fascinated to bemused to some who were angry and scandalised.

Which brings me to 3. Corbyn’s non singing of the national anthem was a major cut through moment. Everyone knew about it and many were still talking about it. And if you try to defend it on the grounds that it would have been hypocritical for a Republican like Corbyn to sing it, it cuts little ice. People see leader of the Opposition as an Establishment leadership position whether leaders like it or not.

4, yes, though a lifelong Republican who nonetheless made the Queen one of my WINNERS (NB rugby fans – alongside Clive Woodward, Jonny Wilkinson and Sam Warburton) I sang the national anthem. Not least because one or two people were looking to see if I would! I didn’t sing as loud as most of the others though.

5. England rugby fans need new songs. They only have one – ‘swing low sweet chariot’ -and it wears very thin very quickly. Football can teach rugby a lot in this area. Pete Boyle where were you? (Look it up)

6. Prince Harry’s popularity is real and deep among the rugby crowd. I would say only Martin Johnson and the teams taking the field got near it in terms of public reaction, first when he appeared in a pre-match video and again when he spoke. The man next to me (a former Labour voter under Tony Blair now worried he might ‘have to go somewhere else’) said ‘this is good, did you help write it?’ which, as well as giving my fragile ego a little boost in these troubled times, brings me more importantly to

7. I do seem to get a lot of people – including my Row D neighbour from Brighton last night – asking why TB has ended up being hated by so many of those who elected Corbyn. This is doubtless a multifaceted question but until we come to terms with his legacy, and understand why he won three elections, it will not be easy for Labour re regroup and rebuild. And there is a real danger those who voted for Corbyn in the leadership feel they represent the millions who didn’t have a vote but do have one in a general election. The gap between parties and public seems rather wide at the moment.

8. Talking of legacy, there was something of a cut through moment for BBC Question Time this week. It always gets a good audience but I sense this week was bigger than usual. I didn’t see it but Alex Salmond – Twickenham is also not his natural territory – seems to have ‘won’ it. John McDonnell seems to have done better than people expected but he needs a more convincing line about his pro-IRA statements of the past than trying to take credit for the Good Friday Agreement, as a couple of Irish fans suggested to me he had. His contribution was not that evident at the time.

9. I am not sure the RWC and the RFU are properly seizing the opportunities this World Cup offers. The crowd felt very samey, there were not as many youngsters as I expected, and though the branding was strong and the organisation good, with terrific volunteers as per 2012, it didn’t have the epic feel of the Games. That might sound obvious given the Olympics are truly global and cover most major sports. But I had hoped to feel a little more a sense of intense national excitement that went beyond the fact it was an important match.

10. The referee had a shocker. I wonder if he suffered from the same kind of nerves that the players showed in the early stages – notably Fiji’s fly half with a dropped ball and a fluffed kick before things had really got going. The upsides of TV technology are clear, and cricket uses it brilliantly. The downsides were on show last night – officials so scared of their own shadow they referred upstairs too often and sometimes when the need not to do so was obvious to 80,000 pairs of eyes in the stadium and 450million worldwide (or so the advertisers get told).

11. Jose Mourinho is a massive rugby fan. Not a lot of people know that (or that he is very religious). I learned these facts from my latest interview with him for this month’s GQ (the first was for WINNERS and could he kindly buck up in the Premier League given his is the biggest sporting name on the cover?) He says he loves the fact the players don’t complain or argue with the referee (not a hint of irony by the way) and thinks football should have higher paid refs and be miked up a la rugby.

12. Oh – as it’s Chelsea v Arsenal today – Mourinho is very funny about Arsene Wenger and his description of their touch line spats. WINNERS and GQ plugs over.

13. At the risk of offending the many who couldn’t get tickets last night I still prefer rugby league to rugby union by a mile. I loved my time on the Lions tour in 2005, met some fantastic characters, and top rugby union can be exhilarating. But league is more consistently so, and it is possible to go lower down the ladder of the game and still get high quality sport. Burnley midfielder Joey Barton (I love that phrase) was tweeting merrily for the rugby league camp last night.

14. Hobby horse time. The links between alcohol and sport are too close. This is a cultural issue and one political leaders have to address. Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have talked often about the fact that we all too often associate alcohol with having a good time or a bad time. My son and I were seated right next to the entrance to our section where dozens of people were taking their ‘I was there’ photos. I reckon seven or eight out of ten felt they had to give a bottle of beer head high prominence.

15. No matter how hard you try to teach people, some will alas never get sport. They include my partner Fiona, who has in her time asked Roger Bannister ‘what was your distance when you were a runner?’; asked me at a Burnley game in our courtship ‘when is the interval?’; and who was sure this morning that England had beaten Fiji by 45 points to 27. As she insisted on this, despite the evidence all over the papers in front of her, I eventually worked out that at the one moment she accidentally channel hopped to ITV, they had been playing for 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

  • I love watching rugby because those big burly men do what the ref tells them and he only addresses them through the captain. I wish football was like this. That said, it’s a lot easier to understand football than rugby. As Nick Hornby points out in Fever Pitch. That partly accounts for its huge popularity. And finally, plenty volunteers – by which we mean unpaid workers – but very high prices to get in. Am I the only one who thinks there is something wrong with this picture? If you’re charging sky-high prices, pay people to help you steward the game. Enjoy rest of the World Cup.

    • Ehtch

      Agreed. It’s like being a volunteer helping out a charity, while it’s managing director gets paid £100,000 a year, or something, most likely much more, out of the plastic buckets.

  • Ehtch

    The England – Fiji game was a shocker for the officials. All through I thought Fiji were being hard done by, it was not quite cricket ol’ boy.

    Thanks to Eddie Waring, on a Saturday afternoon on Grandstand, who was the unofficial chief scout of South-Wallians in the 1970s/80s that fancied going north to actually earn money in rugger, to give RL a shot, rather than just boot money in Union’s amateur days. Oop-‘n-under lad.

    I never watch opening ceremonies, they are by definition “look at us, we the country that are holding this tournament are just simply wonderful, ol’ boy”. But I will have a squint at it on YT, since you thought it was good Ali.

    Stunning result today, Boks slipping up by an amazing performance from Japan. And well done Georgia, that was blood, sweat and guts in action for that win against Tonga. The Irish against the Canadians were doing all sorts of things in the ruck, as usual, semi-illegally. Rubbish reffing in the France – Italy game too, funnily enough at Twickers too.

    Three doses for Sunday, us Cymru against Uruguay, all amateurs incredibly. Kiwis – Pumas should be interesting last game today. USA – Samoa first game should be a good one too.

    As for the badgering you suffered at that posh Twickers, bad show – those people need to get a life. It is like asking a doctor off-duty at a match “have a look at my knee, it’s playing up”.

    And once took a work mate to a rugby game, he didn’t do sports at all, a geeky fella, didn’t even do darts and pool. Didn’t drink too, but he wanted the experience when I had a spare ticket when the Scarlets were playing in London years ago. It was the longest two hours of my life, questions-questions all through the game, and my only respite was going to the bar, often, to fetch a pint.

    Anyway, Irish supporters today in Cardiff watching the last few minutes of the South Africa – Japan game afterwards on big screen, good clip,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJdfTERaZI4

  • Gillian C.

    I don’t give a damn whether Corbyn sang the national anthem or not.
    As national anthems go ours is sh!t. All about the worship and God saving of one person, nothing about our country or its people.

    • Ehtch

      The UK national anthem is a bit bilious making, a bit like a Cliff Richard Christmas number one song. It’s laid on a bit thick.

      Even though I say it myself, our Welsh one is interesting, full of grass-roots memories and, dare I say it, paganism. A sort of song for Mother Nature as much as mother country. Here is a word for word, line after line, literal translation of it into that English. But maybe the misty eyed words are laid on a little thick though, we could say,

      “The old land of my fathers is dear to me,
      Land of bards and singers, famous men of renown;
      Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,
      For freedom shed their blood.

      Nation [or country], Nation, I am faithful to my Nation.While the sea [is] a wall to the pure, most loved land,O may the old language [sc. Welsh] endure.

      Old mountainous Wales, paradise of the bard,
      Every valley, every cliff, to my look is beautiful.
      Through patriotic feeling, so charming is the murmur
      Of her brooks, rivers, to me.

      If the enemy oppresses my land under his foot,
      The old language of the Welsh is as alive as ever.
      The muse is not hindered by the hideous hand of treason,
      Nor [is] the melodious harp of my country.”

    • The prayer seems to have worked though. She certainly has had “long to reign over”…

    • Michele

      Read around?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Save_the_Queen

      I could also do without a religious tone to the anthem (I don’t join in and gave up on the wimpy miming yonks ago).
      However, I don’t blame the title holder for all that has gone before him/her and am sure many would think ‘Who the hell does s/he think s/he is?’ if a title holder in the future wanted to revise it.
      They can’t win!

    • Michele

      Is AiK a chum Gc? Shares the sick vocab.

  • reaguns

    I don’t like Opening Ceremonies as a rule. If, I imagine, I went to a west end show, a musical, they wouldn’t make the audience watch a game of football first. Why then must we watch a musical before a game of football?

    Of course in our house I don’t get a say in such matters and so we had the Opening Ceremony on in 2012… and I must say I was totally blown away by it. To the extent that I willingly watched the closing ceremony, have both as favourites on my youtube user, and even bought at least one CD of the closing ceremony (don’t think you can get the opening one on CD or I would?)

    I thought that was more of a triumph of British culture though than of ceremonies/musicals which I still despise, all that fantastic musical heritage that Danny Boyle was able to tap into – but to be fair he absolutely did it proud, wonderful stuff. It beat all those other countries that just have loads of over fancy dancing and visual effects, to disguise the rubbish music. Only an American Olympic opening ceremony could ever hope to rival it, and they would still really have to go some to get anywhere near to Boyle’s masterpiece.

    And, though a bit of a right winger myself, I found the right wingers harping on, complaining about the NHS featuring, or the negative portrayal of the industrial revolution – well I found their carping ridiculous. Isn’t it the left that is supposed to be joyless, or at least over-serious, take-offence merchants?!

    I found it equally ridiculous when they carped about the cost of the thing. I believe the positive light it shone Britain in, the tales that all the watchers and attendees will tell of how brilliantly the transport worked out and so forth, will I believe bring in much more than it ever cost.

    Didn’t watch the rugby one though, you have to draw the line somewhere.

    • Michele

      I didn’t catch quite all of it but was constantly thinking about the generous spirit of what I did see and as for her maj-ship’s good sport behaviour ….. I’d love to know whose idea the helicopter joke really originally was and the reactions that happened at first.

  • Dave Simons

    No-one should be made to feel obliged or pressured into singing the national anthem, and no genuine republican could stomach even the thought of singing it. If the UK had a referendum on whether or not to keep the institution of monarchy we are ‘informed’ that there would be a majority in favour of the status quo. Whether or not that’s true – perhaps it should be put to the test? – there would probably be a sizeable minority against, including ex-servicemen who disdain to wear red poppies and attend armistice commemorations, let alone sing the national anthem. The institution of monarchy is a symbol of anti-democracy, privilege, class, elitism and wealth and power based on birth. If you love the institution of monarchy, make sure you love its baggage. Does it attract tourists? So does Auschwitz. Is it colourful? So is morris-dancing and the Notting Hill Carnival. Is it a force of unity and continuity? Read a bit of history.
    All praise to Jeremy Corbyn for not singing the national anthem and thinking instead about his parents and their involvement in the war. He has been the surprised and unwitting catalyst of a groundswell of feelings and opinions that is at last waking us up after 26 stultifying years of neo-liberal dogma. His treatment by the media has been shameful, yet he has weathered it with grit and determination. He needs all our support. This is not 1945, but the Labour leadership result has been the best thing that has happened to Labour since 1945.

    • Ehtch

      Top post Dave. Every armed force bar I have been in, the Queen was there on the wall, looking down on us glugging. And on some late nights, not in the Officer’s nor Sergeant’s nor NCO’s bars obviously, much bowing was done to her at times, but facing the opposite way though, with trousers down. Jocks, Taffys and Northern Englanders mainly – we always stuck together.