When I first met you, it was love at first sight. You were the whole package. Perfect in every way.
I was in my wellie boots and barbour jacket in the pouring rain watching my Dad referee Chard 3rd XV vs Crewkerne 2nd XV. I think I was 4 years old, mud from head to toe, sidestepping imaginary players on the side lines with a ball three sizes too big whilst I dived over for my hat trick, winning the Pilkington Cup for Bath in the process.
I then went on to play mini’s for Chard and then we moved to Cornwall together and our relationship blossomed even further.
Your values, camaraderie, gentleman ship, respect, beauty, selflessness and willingness to give constantly is what made you the greatest sport on the planet to me.
Every time I smelt deep heat I thought of you, Every rendition of Swing Low, Little Eyes or Sunshine Mountain filled me with the warmth of the Clubhouse and the smell of the after dinner meal that my Dad had managed to get me a raffle ticket to exchange for. My blackcurrant and lemonade.
The brotherhood and friendships that you introduced me to at University was life changing and those guys and girls are still a major part of our lives to this day. Something I’ll never be able to thank you enough for.
Some of your greatest achievements are actually outside of our relationship but they just make me even prouder to love you.
You united a nation in 1995, brought elation for us British and Irishmen in 1997 within that same country and then that Drop Goal in 2003 that brought me and my brother to tears in the Hope Pub in Chichester.
Later on it was Johnny Sexton’s try in Australia that reduced me to a blubbering mess because we hadn’t won a series since that one in ’97 and that second test in which Jeremy Guscott dropped the winning goal was the last game of rugby I ever watched with my late father. I’d waited 16 years to share another one with him, looking up to the sky with Guinness in hand.
The Haka, The All Blacks. WOW!
You are the sole reason that Twickenham, Newlands, The Principality Stadium, Aviva Stadium, Murrayfield and Eden Park exist. Millions of memories, thousands of cheers and tears.
Hundreds of those ‘I was there’ or ‘I remember where I was’ moments.
You did that. All by yourself.
I knew that you had to get bigger and reach out to the masses with money and fame but I am so fearful that your core values have disappeared along the way.
On the face of it, you are still the same but underneath your leathery, oval skin there is an ugliness inside of you.
You are South African School Boys Rugby on a Saturday, which is amazing but you are also now parents injecting their children with steroids to try and get contracts or schools poaching talent at tender ages.
You are making out that you are trying to unite the World through a World League, yet underneath that you were close to excluding the very foundations of the game in the Pacific Islands as they don’t have the same commercial value of others.
You created one of the greatest domestic set of teams in Wales but now that system is arguing with itself because it has no money and losing its identity.
Super Rugby was envied the World over but now it’s diluted with empty stadiums and travel weary teams devoid of the consistent quality and intensity that once was.
The English Premiership is under scrutiny constantly. Who spent what? Were their business dealings legal? Take overs. Just one club in the Premiership turning over profit and potentially taking the competitiveness of the league away through ring fencing it and alienating a vast number of other clubs who strive to be there.
The French League is another fantastic example of what you brought to the world but why can’t you step in when some narcissistic owner in the South of the country sees fit to try and sack players publicly or hang them out to dry with his words? Rugby core values? Not in a million years!
The Six Nations is still the greatest annual international tournament in the world but this year it was genuinely sad for me. The hate, xenophobic rhetoric and downright unacceptable abuse that I witnessed between fans filled me with despair. Some of the things I saw and read almost reduced me to tears. People that live but a few miles apart in a United Kingdom saying that they hate each other and wish each other pain, or worse, hurts deeply and makes a mockery of the values that you and I both stand for.
The worst was still to come though.
Homophobia. Homophobia in our sport? You’ve allowed this to happen! The game that has always welcomed everyone in with open arms. The sporting haven where people aren’t judged. You have a duty to protect anyone and everyone from any kind of background, skin colour, religion or belief but sadly you failed.
It’s not just that but it’s also the keyboard warriors and people on their high horses judging the other way. The whole situation has descended into a farcical mess and now people that have spoken out about it are seeing fit to become self-righteous and benefit from a situation that they apparently wanted nothing to do with. Hypocrisy of the highest order.
To bring this letter full circle, I read a few weeks ago that Grassroots rugby in England is having its funding cut significantly. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with you had there been no grassroots rugby. It is the reason that our relationship is so deep and meaningful.
You are still producing the goods elsewhere and that is great. World Sevens, Varsity Cup in South Africa, Beach Rugby, Amateur and Schools tours around the world are thriving so don’t think that any of us are giving up on you but sometimes please just take a moment to look in the mirror and ask yourself that if what you are going to do today will benefit the most important thing of all – You. Rugby.
I make you this promise:
I love you, I always will but it’s time for you to harden up and stand up for what is right. I promise to support you on this and I’ll leave you with the infamous words of any parent, husband or wife:
I don’t always like you…..but I’ll always love you!
Photo Credit: Bill Harrison via creativecommons.org