It’s rugby season again. Weekends are devoted to watching most of the different matches, starting on Friday afternoon, continuing through Saturday with some on Sunday as well. No-one is allowed to touch the remote control for the television when a particularly important match is going to be screened, just in case we make a mistake and cancel the recording of the match – yes, the important ones are all recorded for replay later, and also for detail and in depth analysis of player genius or refereeing decisions so the game can be paused at any point, rewinded and replayed and paused at the exact moment a brilliant try, pass, alleged offence or non-offence occurs. Said remote control has been known to get hidden when the man of the house is going to be away during an important match, just to protect the rest of us against ourselves, should we make the dreaded mistake of causing something to go wrong with the recording or worse still, if he wants to watch the game delayed live – purposefully making sure not to hear the score of the game if it’s already started, shutting off from the outside world, turning off the radio and making sure not to watch the TV news, and not looking at text messages from mates in case they’ve decided to share a progress report of the match until he’s had a chance to watch the game in full as if live – and we happen to have the match on the screen as he walks in the door, which renders the TV out of bounds for the rest of us for the duration of that time.
Luckily I enjoy watching rugby as well, although I don’t watch all the matches every weekend. Other sports such as footy (Australian football) and cricket are watched in our house as well should they be on TV and not at the same time as the rugby, but rugby is the one sport which is followed with the most passion, commitment and dedication one could ask of a supporter. Ever since I can remember the volume produced by rugby spectators at home has always been a barometer of the quality of the refereeing. It’s also an indication of how well or badly a much loved team is doing, of course – especially if it’s a nail biter the excitement levels and decibels will be sky high when our team does well but by the same token I can tell without looking when things are going badly just by how quiet the room has become – and here I count myself in because I get equally swept up in the emotion.
We’ve organised our social life around rugby matches, turned up late to a wedding reception because of a rugby test match and my husband has extended his stay in overseas cities after work conferences because there happened to be a test match being played there the following day. It’s fair to say (and it might be a slight understatement) that rugby is important in our house. Over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s impossible to watch a rugby match quietly and one night a few years ago my husband and one of his friends were watching a match in the early hours of the morning – it was one I wasn’t going to stay up for – and I was trying to sleep to no avail, until I decided that I had two options: either get up and march into the living room to ask them to turn down the volume and give poor Friend the shock of the picture of me in my pyjamas, or send my husband a text message from the bedroom asking them to keep it down a bit, and since the bed was nice and cosy and I didn’t want to put Friend off coming to watch rugby at our house for life I opted for option 2. They thought it so hilarious though that their laughter kept me awake for the next half an hour anyway.
Some days there won’t be a break in the rugby for the kids to be able to do anything else in the living room so on a typical Saturday afternoon we’ll have the rugby on TV at full volume, child No 2 playing the piano loud enough so she can hear it over the top of the rugby commentators and the other two kids playing table tennis just outside the door vociferously voicing their opinions about the other’s shots and tactics.
The atmosphere at home while a game is on depends on who is playing and if it’s a match between two teams that we’re not really supporting but my husband is watching “because of the rugby” it’s generally quite relaxed but when “our” team plays it’s charged and electric and we get caught up in the moment, sitting on the edge of our seats biting our nails and not daring to look away from the screen. Surely this is routine for all fervent sports supporters, regardless of the sport? The kids might look at us askance and ask: “What difference is the score going to make to your life?”, but if it’s a close game Ironman moves further and further away from the TV the more the tension grows. It’s almost like the tension would be more bearable if he was further away. If the game is in the hands of a good ref all generally goes well but if the ref makes some bad decisions, incorrectly accusing a player of an offence or worse still: letting an offence by an opposing player slide, all hell breaks loose. If that happens we’re called to witness the injustice of it all and we solemnly shake our heads collectively in shock and agreement and berate the ref in unison. If only the ref could hear us.
One member of the family doesn’t take it very well at all when refs make such bad decisions though. She’s always eager to please everyone else, can sense the mood, keeps a keen eye on all her family members to make sure everybody is safe, well and happy and when someone is unhappy she takes it upon herself to try and make that person happy by running over to them, looking into their eyes intensely and then licking their feet while keeping eye contact. None of us particularly likes having our feet licked but we just can’t stop her from doing it. It’s the only way she knows how to fix the problem of an unhappy human. Poor puppy Tess just can’t for the life of her work out why she can’t make dad happy when the ref is being unfair, and the more his annoyance levels rise at the unfair reffing decision the more ferociously she’ll lick his feet until she finally manages to draw his attention away from the TV – purposefully but not for the placatory reasons she wants (the licking in itself doesn’t make anyone happy) – only because the licking is actually more annoying than the ref and he starts laughing and she’s managed to break the spell even though her methods aren’t our favourite. She’ll be satisfied and content because she’s managed to make dad happy again so off she goes to lie back down in her spot until the next time she decides that her mood-changing skills and special services are required (which could be a minute later or next week, it all depends on the ref).