Rugby

Stop Comparing The All Blacks Win To Something Else. Just Enjoy It.

Stop Comparing The All Blacks Win To Something Else. Just Enjoy It.

In times such as these, we must turn to Con Houlihan.

After Ireland swept to a record 54-10 Six Nations win over Wales in 2002, he introduced his Sunday World report as follows.

Those wonderful people, the Aborigines of Australia, have only one word to express 'the past' and 'the future' - it is 'the Dreaming'.

We could take a lesson from them: we are prone to indulge in reminiscing and speculation - we tend to look on the present as lacking the stuff of drama and romance.

The same tendency has shown itself following the 16-9 defeat of the All Blacks. Within seconds of the full-time whistle, Donal Lenihan set the tone by thundering on RTE, "Can we not play the World Cup tomorrow!?".

The game, performance, and result shrank almost immediately amid this frenzy of forecast.

Gordon D'Arcy predicted this. Talking to Eamon Dunphy on The Stand last week he said that the significance of this game would not be judged until after the World Cup, where success or failure would retrospectively deem the game either a glorious foreshadowing or just another false dawn.

That anxiety is playing out now, and we have seen the full spectrum of responses to how the game should be thought of: premature triumphalism; queasy optimism; stubborn fatalism; unfounded pessimism; hype-puncturing scorn.

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The game has in equal parts been called one of the greatest achievements in Irish sport and a home win in a meaningless friendly game against a team limping to the end of a long, hard season.  It has been used as proof that we now have the coach, squad, talent, and experience to win the World Cup and cited as a fact that we have proved nothing at all.

All sides of the debate make fair points, so what's the right answer? How are we supposed to think about beating the All Blacks at home?

This writer humbly suggests an answer: don't.

This game may prove to be the belief-infusing starting point of a World Cup success. Equally, luck, injuries, Rassie Erasmus and innumerable other things could conspire to knock us out of a World Cup quarter-final. Again.

This should not necessarily devalue whatever last Saturday's win meant to you; if you enjoyed it and the World Cup goes awry, don't look back and feel that you've fallen into the enduring Irish trait of taking a night out a bit too far.

Life has a habit of rattling on indifferent to the stories we ready ourselves for; as Freamon told McNulty in The Wire: "Life, Jimmy, is what happens while you're waiting for moments that never come".

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It is Joe Schmidt's job to examine how Saturday's game augurs for the World Cup, and it is the media's responsibility to establish such arcs and storylines to sell the sport.

You don't have to do either of these things. You have the luxury of sitting back and acknowledging the folly of denying sensation in the name of a wider context and storyline, because, well, shit happens.

Telling stories and establishing arcs have always been our way of carving out some semblance of sense and reason from the random chaos of daily life, and in the very specific realm of international rugby in 2018, every game is now pitched in relation to its significance to the World Cup. This is how the November games have been understood.

The importance of seeing the world through story has been laid bare by the twin circuses of Trump and Brexit, as Twitter feeds us fragments of a seemingly endless series of shocking, norm-flouting incidents unfolding in real-time without any progress to an ending.

BuzzFeed's Joe Bernstein captured this sensation in saying that "one amazing thing about being alive today is the constant electric sensation of bad things coming to a head that never resolves but still maintains its tension over time". The world as experienced this way makes no sense, but this is how it actually is: there is no story, and there is no arc. There is just conflict without necessary resolution and a series of strange incidents that only happened because of a series of random, unpredictable events.

While we need these stories and narratives to make sense of it all, seeing the news unfold in real-time shows that ideas of 'the end' are entirely arbitrary, and are shaped by story. Oscar Wilde spotted this in saying that history doesn't repeat itself, but the historians often repeat one another.

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So don't wait 11 months to validate Ireland's win over the All Blacks. Misfortune or underperformance at the World Cup will reflect on last Saturday night and strip it of its ecstasy.

The conversation around sport is constantly blighted by the desire to see in it more than there is; to portray it as a kind of grand metaphor, portent or resolution. Rugby is as prone to this as any other: this writer can remember Tom McGuirk declaring that Michael Hogan was shot in the same spot of Croke Park as Girvan Dempsey touched down against England in 2007.

(This writer has also chucked Oscar Wilde, Donald Trump, and Brexit into this article so is as complicit as anyone else).

Why must we always thrust great moments into a wider, unstable context? Why not just enjoy them for what they are?

At its best, sport offers a moment of full-throated clarity from the endless, tectonic clamour of our daily lives.

If you're a fan of the Irish rugby team, last Saturday did exactly that: it was a night to enjoy, to feed off the exuberance of your friends and those around you and let your cheers and your daily troubles evaporate into the night sky.

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Shakespeare referred to that sky as "that azured vault", but the vault only opens when we reach the stage in life at which our respective skies darken; then we reflect on our memories like twinkling stars strewn across the night sky.

This is the only definite thing about the future.

So if you enjoyed last Saturday night, don't be anxious about what memories might shimmer after the 2019 World Cup.

Enjoy the one that's just been lit.

See Also: 'It'd Be Very Arrogant Of New Zealanders To Assume Joe Schmidt Is Prepared To Drop Everything'

See Also: The International Media Reaction To Ireland's Victory Against The All Blacks

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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