Thursday, 30 August 2007

Portugal Goes Nuts About the Rugby World Cup

The Rolling Maul decided to spend a few days in Portugal before jetting into Paris for the start of the World Cup. Weather was here, wish you were beautiful and bought the T-shirt and all that. But really this was about research, assessing the mood in Lisbon and the level of buzz surrounding their team's first foray into the top flight of international Rugby.

Of course to say that Rugby in Portugal is foreign and a non-entity on the Portuguese sporting consciousness is like saying that Mateus is from Portugal. Of course they are. The Mateus brothers form the core of the Portuguese pack and are complimented by the three Uva cousins who dominate a speedy backline and heaving bench. And with another set of brothers in the Pintos there are already Rugby dynasties in this country to rival the Henjaks (Dad played League), Giteaus (Dad played League) and Dunnings (Props for Eastwood and Warringah) back home.

So with such a strong Rugby heritage in Portugal and with the Wallabies at training one afternoon, the Rolling Maul took a stroll around the training paddock in outer Lisbon and did a quick vox pop. Here are some of the responses (translated of course - and this time not by Google).

"Watch out for the dog shit."
"What is a Wallaby."
"Yes I've heard about Rugby. Funny, I'd heard the scrums are a joke but these aren't bad. They're even pushing."
"Wallabies? You mean like a little kangaroo? That's so cute."
"You mean I can be a slow fat bastard and play international sport too? Pass me another Sagres (local beer)."
"Andrew Johns is my favourite player. Just yesterday I gave him some pills for the sniffles. He was ecstatic."
"I've never heard about Rugby. I've been watching it for 10 minutes now. Can you explain the rules at the breakdown for me?"
"When will they finish? I've got soccer training in 10 minutes."
"I'm a Portugal Rugby fanatic. I run the fan webpage and average 2 hits a week. I told my mum to stop it but she's so proud. I call it the O Maul do Rolling."
"This is not a tough sport. These are not tough men. Last night in the pub the whole team left to go to bed and the sun hadn't even come up yet."
"The All Blacks will choke in the semi-final"

Monday, 20 August 2007

Getting Your Tongue Around Some French

The Rolling Maul is off to the Rugby World Cup with tickets to all the best games (coincidentally all those that are being shown on free-to-air TV in Australia). And with the departure date only a couple of weeks away the Rolling Maul has been preparing by learning a bit of the lingua franca of France, which is French for the most widely spoken language of a country, which in France just happens to be French.

Of course paying for actual lessons is absurd. The bookstores are full of phrase books tailored especially to the situation of the visitor, such as Spanish for Travellers, Beginners Swiss for Cuckoo Clock Makers, You Can Try to Speak Glasweigan But Won't and the Little Book of French War Victories (not a phrase book but very easy to learn).

Rugby is no exception, and I feel it is my duty to share with you the following important French phrases for anyone else (including players) on their way to France for the Rugby World Cup. Do remember though that to speak French you should hold your nose while assuming an air of superiority. It looks ridiculous and everyone knows you're doing it but if you try hard enough it is possible to actually believe you are superior even if you don't have any basis for it.

On the Field
Please remove your finger from my eye socket - Veuillez enlever votre doigt de ma douille d'oeil.
Sorry, was that your head? - Désolée, était-elle que votre tête?
I didn't even know they played Rugby in Portugal - Je n'ai pas même su qu'ils ont joué au rugby au Portugal.
Do my man boobs look big in this? - Mes boobs d'homme semblent-ils grands en cela?
Have you seen the latest article on The Rolling Maul? - Avez-vous vu le dernier article sur le Roulement Malmener?
All day sir - Toute la journée monsieur.
Jonny Wilkinson is injured. - Jonny Wilkinson est blessé.
You're nothing without Serge Blanco - Vous n'êtes rien sans Serge Blanco.
The only thing softer than your front row is my cambert. - La seule chose plus douce que votre rangée avant est mon camambert.
Four more years - Quatre années supplémentaires.

Off the Field
More red wine Mister Dunning? - Monsieur Dunning de vin plus rouge?
Is this a bread stick in my pocket or am I just glad to see you? - Est-ce que c'une baguette dans ma poche ou j'est est simplement heureux de vous voir?
This meat pie is rubbish. - Ce pâté en croûte de viande est des déchets.
I agree. The Rainbow Warrior had it coming. - Je conviens. Le Guerrier D'arc-en-ciel l'a eu venir.
Cadel Evans deserved to win the Tour De France. - Cadel Evans a mérité de gagner l'tour De France.
Snails! I thought these oysters were off. - Escargots ! J'ai pensé que ces huîtres étaient éteintes.
We saved your arse in World War Two. Nous avons sauvé votre cul dans la guerre mondiale deux.
What do you mean you've never heard of French kissing? You're French. - Que vous voulez-vous dire avoir des baisers français non jamais entendus parler? Vous êtes français.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

If It Looks Like A Duck And Quacks Like A Duck...

John O'Neill and the Sydney Morning Herald declared it an unqualified success, but you can bet they weren't stuck in any of the queues - the queue to get in (sure Rugby supporters only turn up five minutes before kick off but everyone knows that and it should be accounted for), the queue for beer and the queue for steak sandwiches. But what the Australian Rugby Championship's first match lacked in service provision it made up for with Rugby.

Over 3,700 turned up to North Sydney Oval last Friday night - not to watch the Sydney Fleet play the Central Coast Rays, but to see if the invented competition with it's invented laws looked and tasted like real Rugby. And much like the Tooheys New served up in tin cans bore a passing resemblance to real beer (which is served out of a tap into glass), the ARC had incomprehensible ruck interpretations, fumbling dropped ball, non-straight line-out throws and multiple re-set scrums - everything that we've grown to know and love about Rugby.

There were also some nice trys (trivia question answer for future years - Jordan Macey - the first try scorer in the ARC), some decent hits (although Wycliffe Palu lasted only 40 minutes) some sweeping backline movements and little guys running along the wing pursued by hulking second rowers (no idea who he was but it was like watching an episode of Benny Hill).

That the players were taking it seriously was probably the most important aspect of the game. The biggest cheer all night came when the two teams came out swinging after a particularly messy ruck. And the passion wasn't just limited to Friday night's game either. It was apparent in Chris Latham's cajoling of his Aces teammates into making one last tackle to hold off the resurgent Tornadoes and the joy on the face of Luke Burgess after running 90 metres to secure the ARC upset of the century (of all four games to date) against competition favourites Canberra Vikings.

Matt Dunning and Lote Tuquiri can do as much partying until the wee small hours as they like as far as the Rolling Maul is concerned. Real Rugby lives on in the ARC where club players (the Jeckyll and Hyde Gavin DeBartolo for example), borderline rep players and washed up old props can show off their limited wares and get paid more than match fees to do so.

John O'Neill and the Herald are wrong. The ARC isn't an unqualified success. It's a qualified success.

For a start, the Sydney Fleet need to play all their games on Friday nights at North Sydney Oval if they want to get a crowd (though TV commitments ensure that won't happen). The ARU talk about engendering tribal loyalty but in the era of the franchise and not the team that could prove difficult.

Fortunately Rugby's greatest saving grace is it's ability to be more event driven than sport driven and the ARC has event potential. That most of the spectators at North Sydney were supporting the Central Coast and not the nominal home team is almost inconsequential. Indeed the Rolling Maul decided to support the Central Coast Rays for no better reason than Mrs Maul's parents live in Woy Woy and we thought it would be nice to see a game in Gosford with them. Rolling Maul's brother chose the Melbourne Rebels because it has a number of Easts players and his best mate had picked the Fleet before he had a chance to (we each decided to support different teams for a change).

So if the coaches are prepared not to coach too much, if the players are prepared to throw the ball around and smash their club mates, if spectators are willing to watch Rugby for Rugby's sake and the ARU can stop bickering and start enjoying (and if Matt Dunning and Lote Tuquiri can get off the booze and the front page) there's hope yet for the ARC and Australian Rugby. Just.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Australian Rugby Championship Set To Thrill The World

Much like a four-year-old who needs to go to the toilet, the Australian Rugby community is just bursting with nervous excitement and anticipation at the imminent start of the inaugural Australian Rugby Championship (ARC). Rugby aficionados in Australia have long dreamt of the much promised but never realised 'third tier' of professional Rugby in this country, a competition of ferocious and hard-fought battles between men proud to represent their region even if they've never been there before.

So in an effort to say "I told you so", the Rolling Maul looks into the tea leaves (not literally - the Rolling Maul only has access to instant coffee) to predict how the eight teams will go in their quest to become the first, and possibly only ever, winner of the ARC - the pinnacle of Australian Rugby (except for the World Cup, the Bledisloe, Tri-Nations, Lions Tours, Super 14, the Shute Shield, my local subbies comp and whatever it is that they play for in Brisbane).

The Melbourne Rebels
Digby Ioane, who spent the first 14 years of his life in Melbourne before moving to Queensland because it was warmer and they play Rugby, has returned to Melbourne to play for the Rebels. Rumour has it he even intends to attend a few training sessions, but only if they're held in Sydney, and has considered an invitation to have a beer in the Esplanade Hotel.

Judging by a quick straw poll of the Rolling Maul's friends in Melbourne, one is already a Rebel Rebel (the expected name of the Melbourne fan club which conveniently comes with a song to match). He has even bought the jersey and is considering life membership which is pretty brave considering the competition may only last one year. The Rolling Maul's other two friends can't stand Rugby, but if this quick survey is anything to go by then over a million Melburnians can be expected to attend each Rebels home game.

Prediction: 8th (or last last if you prefer)
Predicted headline: Rebels Without a Cause

East Coast Aces
Last time the Rolling Maul checked a map the Australian east coast was about 4,000 km long. How a team drawn from such from the tiny proportion of it that is the Gold Coast can represent all 4,000 km, including the Central Coast and Sydney that have their own ARC teams is beyond the Rolling Maul (which is getting used to speaking about itself in the third person). Featuring the mercurial (as in old) Andrew Walker, the exciting prospect (as in young) that is Quade Cooper, five New-Zealand born players and no other names recognisable beyond the Lamingtons (not the spongy cake but the hills out the back of the Gold Coast though both could be true) the Aces will struggle not to look like jokers.

Late mail has it that Chris Latham will be playing two matches for the Aces, so they can expect to win - two matches.

Prediction: 7th
Predicted headline: Aces Come Up Trumps

Ballymore Tornadoes
A tornado in Brisbane is about as likely as the USA winning the (or winning any) World Cup. Just the fact that most of the tornadoes are drawn from the Brisbane club competition with a sprinkling of players from the highly successful Queensland Reds indicates that the Tornadoes will struggle to put the wind up any team. Clinton Schifcofske provides a bit of oomph at the back but when your captain Tom McVerry, who was born in Melbourne, can't even get a game with the Melbourne Rebels you've got to worry. Elia Tuquiri may have the pedigree but Benny Elias would have a better chance of sneaking a win through the back door.

Prediction: 6th
Predicted headline: Tornadoes Run Out Of Puff

Central Coast Rays
Peter Hewat has already admitted he's just fulfilling his contract. Sam Norton-Knight admits he's pissed off at Berrick Barnes getting the World Cup nod ahead of him. Clint Eadie hates the fact he'll forever be compared (and not particularly favourably) with his Dad Graham. Ofa Fainga’anuku just has a really funny name but is pissed off that Nifo Nifo's name is even funnier. Is this a recipe for team harmony?

Prediction: 5th
Predicted headline: Rays Of Hopeless

Perth Spirit
Force Fever has become Spirit Stupidity in Perth. Captained by notorious bad boy Matt Henjak and featuring that other great booze hound of Australian Rugby Scott Fava, the Spirit are expected to show spirit on the field and drink spirits off it in large quantities. Opposition front rows have already been warned not to breathe for fear of sucking in the fumes. Rumour has it that a few locals have also been named in the squad so you can expect them to spend a lot of time standing on the sideline in a tracksuit.

Prediction: 4th
Predicted headline: Spirit Reach For The Top Shelf

Western Sydney Rams
Kurtley Beale got a special dispensation to play for the Rams even though he plays his club Rugby for Norths. At least he comes from St Marys. Indeed a quick scan of the team list shows only one Penrith player, two Parramatta players and four West Harbour players have been selected to warm the Rams bench. Most of the players are from Eastwood which is a worry as they only squeaked into the Sydney club competition finals. Surely the Rams shouldn't have had too much trouble recruiting New Zealanders. Beale is a genius and should be on his way to France but it won't help.

Prediction: 3rd
Predicted headline: Lambs To the Slaughter

Canberra Vikings
The Brumbies' second stringers are sponsored by the Navy which is extraordinary considering that the entire coastline of the ACT is limited to a small part of Jervis Bay, 260 km from Canberra. And why the public servants of Canberra in their cushy desk jobs would want to give it all away for a 6-month stint in a submarine or in the Persian Gulf is difficult to imagine. Not only that, but off all the nonsensical teams names in the ARC, what do Scandinavian warrior rapists and pillagers with handle-bar moustaches and horns on their helmets have to do with Canberra? Maybe that's where the link to the Navy comes from. Do not expect any of these questions to be answered as the ARC progresses.

Prediction: 2nd
Predicted headline: Vikings Go Down In Flames

Sydney Fleet
When the ARC was first proposed there were three clubs who were bitterly opposed and fought long and hard for it not to happen - Sydney Uni, Randwick and Easts. So what did the ARU do? It put all three of them together and called them the Fleet. It will interesting to see if the Fleet are inspired or resentful at having to play a competition they don't believe in. Fleet glory could lead to the success of the ARC and more power to it at the expense of its component clubs. It could happen to as Easts and Uni were the finalists of the Sydney club competition. Just the cheering through gritted teeth will make the entire ARC worth watching.

Prediction: 1st
Predicted headline: Australian Rugby Championship's Fleeting Existence

Read more about the ARC here