A Nation United, A Nation Divided?

Tomorrow morning over one million people will sit down to tune in to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup Quarter Final against New Zealand.

It’s the biggest game of the tournament and with two out of the last three encounters going Ireland’s way, there is a belief that anything is possible.

The country should be at a standstill, united in sport, wanting to see Ireland go further in a rugby World Cup than ever before, and yet there is an undercurrent.

There has been over the top gloating from some quarters about Ireland’s troubles in Japan through qualification, based on a reverse snobbery that sees Rugby as just a game for privileged public schoolboys and one which has too high an opinion of itself.

Against that, there is an element of truth in the latter part, with too much sensitivity from the sports cheerleaders themselves doing little to bring along ‘non-believers’.

In last weekend’s Irish Times Matt Williams condemned those who condemn Rugby putting up two as he saw cast-iron defences. One was that it was incredible fun to play, fair enough, the other that it was the game played in heaven.

Even tongue in cheek that just played into the prejudices of those for whom it has never really been their sport.

Vodafone, as Ireland’s principal sponsor, has always stated their objective, alongside the IRFU, as being to bring Rugby to everyone, not just those who are fully committed.

The ‘Team of Us’ motif has sought to bring everyone into cheering loud and proud in the same way as happens without a blink for Irish football teams as in Italia ’90 and even Irish Hockey teams as we saw last Summer.

There is something organic about the support which grows for an Irish team on a world stage. It’s special that we are so easy in our affections that we will get behind anyone, doing anything, so long as they are wearing green and competing at the highest level.

This World Cup though has yet to fully ignite that sense of all of us against them. The attacks on the sport have been too simple, too angry. The defence perhaps a little too entitled. Neither reflects terribly well on those expressing them.

To use words like vindictive and spiteful against those who question Rugby’s place in our hearts errs on the defensive.

Similarly to query Ireland’s team based on some sort of belief that they are just a bunch of posh boys does little credit to those who express those views.

Sport at this level is about a group of individuals that have dedicated more than most of us could ever dream of doing, to achieving something that gathers us as a tribe.

We may not understand the intricacies of rucks and mauls, no more or less than the tackle in Gaelic Football or the parameters for VAR in a football World Cup.

But if we cannot be big enough to admit that there is room for more than one code, more than one way of expressing Irishness, more than one team that we can cheer along, then maybe sport isn’t really so central to our core than we always say it is. That cuts both ways.

Tomorrow morning we should cheer and shout for Ireland. If we have to do that on time delay because of involvement with another sport at the same time on a busy Saturday morning that shouldn’t be condemned, nor held up as a badge of pride.

It will be tough, but not impossible. It will be the culmination of years of preparation, win or lose. It will be sport at the highest level on the biggest stage. It is being brought to us on free to air television and the world will be watching.

Come on Ireland.

Image Credit Inpho.ie Dan Sheridan

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