I'm enjoying Rugby a fair bit just now – not just because England are winning, but that is certainly a part of it.
Sport has always been a pretty big bit of me, starting off with athletics and the Tour de France in the mid-eighties, through years of obsessive football-fandom and the desolation inherent in years of supporting England's worst ever cricket team (1992-1998).
Then, when I was 16, Saracens moved to nearby Watford and, due to trying to 'build up local support', offered season tickets at £60 for an adult (my Dad) and £30 for me. Every week we put on our collective fez and watched Philippe Sella, Michael Lynagh, Richard Hill, Francois Pienaar et al. A proper education.
The centrality of rugby in my world was then established when I moved to NZ and had to put up with being an Englishman in a nation that checks the All Blacks' score before deciding on its mood. I was there (at 1.30 in the morning) when we won the World Cup.
But anyway, that's all a preambling way of saying 'I love Rugby, and here are some reasons':
– Fat, thin, tall or short, there's room for all in the 1st XV.
– Driving mauls on a wet day.
– Players who are more articulate (after 80mins of hell) than their post-match interviewer.
– Tonga vs Georgia, Argentina vs Australia, Samoa vs Scotland. Where else can you find these?
– Old clips with Bill McLaren or Cliff Morgan commentating.
– Lions tours.
– Scrums (when they're a proper battle, or when the Aussies are getting battered).
– The little jinky players: Barry John, Jason Robinson, Shane Williams etc.
– 'Ireland's Call' – might be the best national anthem of all, if only it didn't lack a country.
– Ways to skin a cat #1: tries, penalties, conversions, drop-goals, penalty-tries …
– Ways to skin a cat #2: dominating up front, slick handling, solid set-pieces, diamond-hard defence, kicking for territory, subterfuge in the front-row, pace and power …
To me, sports like football, basketball or rugby league struggle to get anywhere near the depth and variety of rugby union, and while cricket has variety in spades, they are spread over five days (which is never going to inspire mass-singalongs down the pub). Plus there is always something gladiatorial and warrior-like seeing mud-covered men nobly wrestling in front of 80,000 people.