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It’s hard being a Scottish rugby fan…


It all started off so promisingly as well. Scotland had come off the back of a not great Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and it was felt that the bad couldn’t get any worse. Eventually, the try drought had to stop; silly mistakes had to be cut out; a better attacking platform had to be developed. All Scottish rugby fans had been crying out for a new dawn since the inaugural Six Nations back in 2000, and hope has sprung eternal since the days of Matt Williams, Frank Hadden, and more recently Andy Robinson, that things could be turned around and we could once again become a force in world rugby.

Every year since I’ve been following the Six Nations, I’ve always gone into the tournament with fresh vigor and determination that this would be our year. This would be the time where we would blow teams away with our daring attack and phenomenal defense, carving up the pitch with devastating runs and pinpoint accuracy kicks. Alas, I’ve always been disappointed that we’ve come up so short. In. Every. Single. Tournament. Since I’ve been watching (2007), we have finished second last, with Italy the only team preventing us from the ignominy of finishing dead last.

This year, again, I had hoped it would be different. But as soon as Robinson announced the line up for the game against England, we knew we were doomed because it contained Dan Parks. Now, Dan Parks has been an admirable servant of Scotland for over a decade, and he has single-handedly saved many games for Scotland through his impeccable place kicking and touch finders, but his form of late has been dipping rather dramatically. This came to a head during the game against England when he botched a clearance kick which was charged down and led to an England try. Game over. What was even worse about this was that almost straight after the game, he retired from international rugby with immediate effect. Pretty awful news and I felt sorry for the guy who had put his body on the line for Scotland on so many occasions.

But this had the potential to herald our new dawn, with a new 10 coming in to replace Parks in the form of Greig Laidlaw (the current Edinburgh number 10), and instantly, our backline was transformed, making line breaks almost at will. But what seemed to constantly plague us were silly mistakes in the opposition 22, and against Wales, this manifest itself in two entirely avoidable yellow cards which effectively ended the contest. But we bounced back against the French and scored some well worked tries, playing probably the most attractive rugby I’ve ever seen Scotland play. Alas, we still lost, and then against Ireland, we appeared to throw away any semblance of a coherent game plan, and lost the game quite comprehensively.

So we are now zero for the last six games, and go into the last weekend of the Six Nations with our usual attempt to avoid finishing last by beating Italy. At home. Where we lost in 2008. And 2010. If we don’t beat them, we’re also ‘awarded’ both the Wooden Spoon (last place) and a tournament whitewash (no wins).  So a lot is at stake here, and I seriously wonder if Andy Robinson’s position will be at all tenable if Scotland lose. I can’t even countenance what the reaction will be in the Scottish media, since this will represent our worst run of results in about a decade.

Whatever happens though, I have to applaud the Scotland team. It can’t be easy going out on to the pitch, investing so much emotional, physical and mental effort for no reward, and then having to repeat it the next week. But I’m hopeful that today, Scotland can go out and throw down a marker that doesn’t completely devalue all the efforts they’ve made this season.

And maybe next year will be our year.

FREEDOM!!!

– The Social Linguist

Categories: Home life, Random Tags: , ,

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…


February is, without a doubt, my most favourite time of the year, no contest. Why? Well, it’s certainly nothing to do with the weather, nor is it because my teaching load is noticeably heavier in semester 2, nor is it because January is over and Spring is looming over the horizon. It’s because February rings the start of the Six Nations Championship and a glorious six weeks of international rugby action. Woohoo!

Although the World Cup is a wonderful spectacle and advert for the sport (England’s antics during and after the tournament a notable exception), the Six Nations distills this into an almighty battle between the Home Nations and Italy and France. No sport tournament comes close (in my mind at least) to embodying the passion, adrenaline, commitment, joy and heartbreak of the Six Nations. It is without par in the sporting world and I look forward to it every single year (well, every single year for the past six years or so).

In some respects, I’m disappointed I got into rugby so late on in my life. I was never into sports as a teenager, and during P.E. at high school, I would ask if I could go for a cross-country run instead of embarrassing myself with my two left feet and always being picked last. Rugby was (and still is) a peripheral sport in Scotland, despite the fact that it’s got a lot more going for it than football. It’s a game for all sorts of people, from small and quick to big and slow and everything in between. There’s very little animosity between club supporters, the players are respectful of the referee and his decisions (even if the decisions are wrong), and every game finishes with a handshake and a pat on the back, regardless of what happens on the pitch. In many ways, it’s a much more family friendly game than many football games, yet rugby hasn’t really capitalised on this distinction, and certainly not in Glasgow where football-related violence has always been an intrinsic part of being a fan (not for all fans of course, but for a vocal minority).

Anyway, now to head off and get ready for a day of screaming, shouting and cursing at the television. Can’t. Wait.

Oh, and here’s a wee ditty for you…

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
When the rugby is showing,
And Guinness is flowing, it’s Six Nations time!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
It’s the hap-happiest season of all.
With those try scorers running and scrums a-collapsing
You’ll roar when they score!
It’s the hap- happiest season of all.”

The Social Linguist

Categories: Home life, Random Tags: , ,

A Retrospective on Scotland at the RWC2011


A week later, the pain has subsided enough for me to talk about Scotland’s showing at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Now, many of you may not know that I am a rugby fan. I only got into it about five years ago when I took an ex-girlfriend to a Scotland vs. Italy game for a Valentine’s Day gift (incidentally, Scotland got beat…), but from that point on it was a match made in heaven (between me and rugby, not me and the ex-girlfriend). This was especially surprising to me since I had hated all forms of team sports when I was growing up, and the fact that I disliked football (remembering that I grew up in Scotland) put me on a social footing equal with that of a leper. But rugby tapped into something I had no idea I had the capacity for: passion at a bunch of guys running around a pitch and smashing each other with bone-crunching tackles in the pursuit of a try.

This passion typically manifests itself as very loud shouting at the action. I cheer and scream as my team do well (or more usually, do something stupid), and as someone who is generally quite reserved, this display is at odds with the majority of my day-to-day behaviour. And it’s only through watching rugby that I’ve come to an understanding about why sport is followed so vigorously by millions of people. When Scotland played Australia a couple of years ago and Matt Giteau (in an uncharacteristically bad kicking display) missed the conversion which would have won Australia the game had it gone over, the bar I was in literally exploded in a scene of joy which would typically be associated with the barman announcing all drinks were on the house (especially in Scotland). It felt amazing to be a part of it.

So it was with great expectation that I looked forward to Rugby World Cup 2011, this time held in New Zealand. The last world cup around was in France in 2007. Scotland had made it through to the quarter finals and were facing Argentina. A dogged game followed and Argentina won 19 – 13 after some ridiculous ‘decision making’ by Dan Parks to try a ridiculous cross-field kick in the last minute… It was the first (but unfortunately not the last) time I was to be psychologically gutted about losing.

When the draw was announced for RWC 2011, Scotland was placed in the same group as Argentina and England, but a series win against Argentina in 2010 and a close run defeat by England at the Six Nations 2011 meant that Scotland were reasonably confident of qualifying for the quarter finals. Coupled with a win against South Africa and the appointment of Andy Robinson, things were looking up for Scottish rugby.

Unfortunately, however, Scotland seems to be afflicted by a severe case of ‘try-line-phobia’, meaning that the games we have won (Australia, S.A., Argentina) have been decided through the kicking prowess of Chris Paterson and Dan Parks (as a footnote, I shook Chris Paterson’s hand after the Bath vs. Edinburgh game in the Heineken Cup. I squealed like a complete fan-boy afterwards). The lack of tries means that if your team scores two penalties, it only requires the opposition to score one try and convert it for them to be ahead.

After two unconvincing wins against Romania and Georgia (with the game in Georgia a particularly close run affair), we had to defeat Argentina to have any hope of qualifying to the quarter finals. And for 70 minutes, a win looked to be on the cards, with a pack controlling the game (in spite of losing Euan Murray due to his religious beliefs preventing him from playing on a Sunday) and the backs occasionally threatening the try line. Dan Parks and Ruaridh Jackson made a couple of well-timed drop goals, but even with ‘penalty advantage’ (meaning that although the opposition has given away a penalty, the attacking team is given the option of continuing to pressure for a try with the knowledge that if they mess it up, they can still fall back on being given a penalty and a shot at 3-points), Dan Parks went for the drop-goal when we should have gone for the try.

It was in the 72 minute that a sloppy restart was totally uncontested by Scotland (the team who is scored against kicks the ball to the opposition to restart the game, so Argentina kicked it to Scotland). Argentina collected the ball and an Argentine back managed to squeeze through four defenders and touch down, and the conversion duly slotted by Contempomi more or less ended Scotland’s hopes of progressing as Argentina went in front 13-12. But there was still about 5 minutes left on the clock, and Scotland did well to scramble the ball down to the Argentine 22, pushing for the drop goal that would win us the game. A few line-outs on the Argentine 5 metre line put the ball down in the red-zone and the forwards battered the ball up through the phases, readying Dan Parks to go for the drop goal.

What happened next is unclear (even from the replays). At the base of the ruck, the opposition team is deemed ‘off-side‘ if they’re in front of the back foot of the last player involved in the ruck. This offence generally results in a penalty being awarded to the attacking team. Where it gets confusing is that off-side is only valid so long as the ball isn’t in play and as soon as the ball is touched (usually by the attacking team’s scrum half), off-side no longer applies and the defending team can move in front of the rear-most foot of players involved in the ruck (clear as mud so far, right?). In the case of this game, it looks like Mike Blair (Scotland scrum half) touches the ball to pass it to Dan Parks for the drop goal, but as soon as he does so, Contempomi manages to get in the way of Parks and forces him to kick on his weaker left foot. The debate which raged after the game was whether Contempomi was off-side (interestingly, he actually admitted that he was off-side), but it was missed by referee Wayne Barnes, the ball sailed on the left of the uprights and Scotland were denied a clear penalty.

But that’s not why we lost the game. We lost the game because of inattention at a crucial point in the game (the restart which led to Argentina’s try) and an clinical inability to score tries. This came back to haunt us in the game against England, a game Scotland had to win by 8 points or more to have a chance of progressing to the QFs. We didn’t, and the end of the game had an eerily familiar slant to it: 10 minutes to go, botched restart, poor defending, England try, Scotland defeat.

The Scotland team looked shell-shocked at the end of the game, with many of the team openly weeping at being kicked out of the World Cup. Truth be told, it was hard enough for me to not start crying. The hopes of Scottish rugby fans were dashed by two teams who were offered only one chance each to score a try, and they both took them.

It’s hard being a Scottish rugby fan, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and come February next year, I’ll be sitting there with my pint of Guinness watching the Six Nations, screaming and cheering my team with utter abandon, believing to my core that we can win. Otherwise, what’s the point of being a fan?

The Social Linguist