This weekend the 2013 Six Nations Championship reaches its halfway point. Half of six is three, all the teams are playing their third match, three is the magic number; happy news for fans of the three sides for which sorcery, rather than the incumbent coaching ticket, is their most realistic hope for some good rugby.
In mid-tournament, management, especially those being less than successful, herd players into anti-media corrals and, wagons circled, fire warning volleys at any member of the professional or amateur punditocracy who dares suggest, “Christ, your lot were shit at the weekend.”
However, among the HASKolites is a man with plenty of experience in scumbag tabloid hackery. Armed only with surveillance equipment procured from some ex-cop who knows a fella, dodgy videos of doping and extra-marital affairs, and a large rucksack filled with used, untraceable twenties, Larry was for some reason able to get the inside line on the turbulence within the Irish, Welsh and French camps.
First up, the men in green, dealt with handsomely on a Sunday afternoon by Stuart “better than other coaches just by not being mental” Lancaster’s White Knights of Humility™ in
the world’s biggest greenhouse the modern Rugby Fortress™ on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.
Our source, calling himself The Outsider, spoke of dischord in the camp brought on by the ever-closer relationship between the coach, Fr. Declan, and stand-off-cum-geriatric-cum-Faustian-protagonist Radge.
“Declan’s gone and spunked the squad’s whole medical budget on Ronan’s own personal dialysis machine,” said our man, “and we’ve had to sack more coaches to pay for two full-time carers. Les now does everything. His playing career was spent entirely on the wing in Rugby League. Lineouts are going quite well, considering.”
But how is the atmosphere in camp? Do the players believe in the direction taken by the management? “Do they balls,” said The Outsider, “We lost to England, for crying out loud – England! The filth, in Dublin! It’s so embarrassing. One of their lads can’t get on a ferry without falling overboard, and he’s not even close to being the thickest – the HASK… Ben shitting Youngs! All we’ve had to do recently against those stupid fucks is make sure we’ve not selected anyone who’s dead, get Paulie to check Donncha hasn’t tied the wrong laces together and, ta da, a win.
“Now, after two competitive defeats in a row, we have to accept that they – yes, men that stupid – are our betters. The decline towards 1990’s level results has been hugely dispiriting. I’ve not spent the last fourteen years beating teams on my own every other match to see it all slide away to shite.
“Time spent on team training is shrinking. Deccie spends most of his waking hours at Ronan’s bedside, filling up the hot water bottle and reading aloud from the day’s Racing Post. Now all that’s left are games against the sweaties and the pastafarians, both much improved, and the French, who may be rubbish but always beat us anyway. Bastards.”
“Turns out Rog isn’t even starting this week, but coach is still there, sopping up piss with his 65% polyester IRFU tie. Ailing health has limited the guy’s ability to play the whole eighty. One might think this would lead him to retire; even the feckin’ Pontiff has stepped down rather than miss any more sitters. But Rog’s self-belief makes Divine Infallibility look like the contents of Rhys Priestland’s Little Boy Lost’s Big Book of Doubt.”
Brian the nameless current player who made his debut in 1999 about the change in captaincy. The response cannot be put into words but, dear reader, never before have I seen a man lift himself off the ground, in effective levitation, using only the upward force of his left eyebrow.
Meanwhile, somewhere in France:
“I’m happy to talk, but I don’t want my mots twisted. You’ll just fuck it up. Write down precisely what I say. Give the readers what they want.
“My name is unimportant. The honour of France isn’t that important either. However, I hate losing. Things need to change.
“If three is the magic number, what then of three times three, three threes added together? Number nine, magic squared, the most important position in rugby (the second being number three, as you all know), which is therefore as important as anything else in such an arbitrary universe. Without an absolute purpose we are free to create our own, the greatest gift of a dogless existence.
“Where have we erred? Apologies: where have some, not including myself, gone wrong? Clearly, we have lacked direction, clear-thinking, a general to guide the troops. Consult the runes. Feel the magic. Number nine. Something needs to change. To that end, one very wise soul has turned to the power of suggestion in a bid to gently steer our coach onto that narrow path called magnificence. Philippe, like almost everyone, is a simple beast, vulnerable to benevolent manipulation – itself the warm, smiling tool of humanity’s greatest.
“The Beatles were a fine band, I suppose, but far from perfect. Our well-meaning homo superior has taken the Scousers’ most tete-dans-le-cul track – a warning against the mixed pleasures of acid, if ever there was one – plucking it from severe obscurity as the penultimate tune on the White Album, before combining it with a pictoral aid to show M. Saint-André the light and the truth. The audio/visual pleasure has been left in his office every morning before training. Now it’s up to him. A hero can only do so much.”
Saving the best for last, Wales – where we simultaneously co-existed at the very heart and the very fringe of the set-up. This Cardiff Deep Throat, calling himself Guts’n’Glory, we think, was characteristically forthcoming.
So, big man, the Dragon finally roared, albeit against the worst French side ever. And, regardless, eight defeats in a row – lose a couple more this tournament and it’s a disaster… what’s going wrong?
“Who guvs a shut? Makes me look funtistic, an all oi huff to do is fuckn sut here un ebsentia and everyone thinks ‘Jeez, thut Gutty, he’s the tuts!’ Fuckn three-plays-thurdy just ufta huff time? At home? Agunst Irelun? Whut the hill, bro, whut the hill?
“Why de you think Howley’s goin on tor un joon? Fuckn riddy-made excuse for whin oi go fer tha Ull Blicks job ufta tha nixt Worl Cup. Steve Choo says, ‘Ye fuckn loss to the Ockers? An ye want thus gug?’ an, just before he tulls me te go fuck mysulf unto luttle puces wuth the posts un Edun Paaark, oi say, ‘Howley, bro. Howley’ an he nods his hud un goes, ‘Yeah bro, fuck it, cun’t expuct ye to wun games with Europeen cuttle unnyway.’
“An there ye go, Bob’s yur shupe’s uncle an aaaunt. Bungo! Fuck you, Futzy, ye cun’t be the bust at uvrythin.”
Right… Guts, you seem a little… on edge?
“Drugs, bro. Um hooked. Busted both me ruckn stucks ufter falln off one of thum new portable straight staircase thungs… whut…”
“Thut’s the kut. Full a full twenny foot an now um locked un a trumadol uddiction spoiral. Pain un the aaarse, bro. Stull, water off a rhino’s beck. Oil be roight fur tha Lions. Oiv played Buck Shulford an survoivd, thus is fuck all.”