Monday, October 03, 2011

Crossing the Grain Line: To Beer or Not to Beer Before Ireland v Wales

Faster than light neutrinos booting along the spine of Italy are in the ha’penny place compared to the stress the immutable laws of nature will face in Ireland next weekend.

For the first time since William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it, the great and manly pastimes of supporting the game of rugby and lorrying buckets of fermented barley, grain and hops are not only disunited; they are at daggers drawn.

Drinking has always been associated with rugby. Among players, the debauchery reached its apotheosis when Colin Smart, loose head prop for Tunbridge Wells and England, downed a bottle of aftershave at the France v England post-match dinner after their Five Nations game in 1982. Smart’s scrum-half, Steve Smith, later remarked that after Smart had his stomach pumped he didn’t look good but he did smell lovely.

It’s a professional era now, of course, and the modern player is fuelled solely by Lucozade Sport and boiled chicken. But for the supporters, the pints are lorried just as they always were. Rugby has always been a social sort of a game.

And that’s at the root of the weekend dilemma. The quarter-final between Ireland and Wales rises before the very dawn itself in the green land or Erin, and as such the question every supporter must ask is: pint like a savage and stay up all the night, or take one for the team and abjure Friday night gargle?

The young and restless will choose the heroes’ part, of course. Eager young men will mount the high stools like John Wayne mounting his horse while getting set to take on the Comanches – grim faced and determined in the awful realisation that men gotta do what men gotta do. By four the nightclubs and late bars will have inquired if they have no homes to go, and disgorged them onto the pavement where they do or do not.

Then they are at their greatest danger. Ladies will be making the glad eye and tempting our heroes with earthly delight. Some young men may be already insensible, and already sleeping the sleep of the just in gutters or bus shelters. And more will be laying siege to the chippers, hoping that a layer of greasy soakage between the pints already swallowed and the warm cans waiting back in the flat can make all the difference.

For greyer heads, the temptation is to wish the children well, and hope that they do not kick the wing mirrors off our cars on their way home. We choose to sit in and have an early night, in order to rise with lark, refreshed.

But reader, danger just as deadly as a night-club Natalie or a car-park coma awaits, even in the safety of the home. While trapped in one’s lair, nervously worrying about the ancient hwyl that has fueled Welsh rugby to deeds of glory through the generations, a fan may be tempted to turn on his or her television. It may be necessary to distract the mind from worrying about slow second phase ball, choke tackles or that awful dream we’ve been having where the Pink Panther recites from Yeats in the accent of Matt Williams.

Through no fault of his own, the innocent may, by a tragically unlucky chain of events and through no fault or his own, be exposed to the Late Late Show. This can only lead to one thing: a level of fury that reduces the television receiver to smithereens as you smash it to bits with the trusty poker.

But as you stand there among the broken glass and plastic, the righteous anger will subside and the grim realisation will drawn: oh bloody hell, how will I watch the game now? Reader, there will be only one choice. Go into the hall, put on your hat and coat, and go out, out into the night. Rugby and revelry have stood shoulder to shoulder, answering Ireland’s call, for too long for you to turn your back on either now.