A Sunday afternoon bike ride downtown and the day becoming a bit chilly. Grey clouds were hovering just above our beautiful tree cover.
Our town council was wise way back in 1922, planting more than 1,000 trees to ensure beauty, oxygen and shade.
It seemed like a good idea to nip into the Olde Angel Inn for a diet Pepsi, and to catch the men’s tennis final at the U.S. Open.
But on the screen above B.S. Corner from Stade de Marseille in France was a Rugby World Cup match between the Red Roses of England and Los Pumas of Argentina.
The always-friendly bar tender Adam smiled and as usual proffered a clever joke.
I have never played rugby nor women’s volleyball, so it is strange that these are my two favourite sports to watch.
Why? Perhaps it is the continuous action, without interminable breaks for commercials and whining to the referees.
Perhaps it is the fact the players are not obscenely overpaid prima donnas, who the broadcasters and talking heads fawn over.
Pushy scrums and “face-washing” get a bit tedious after every whistle in hockey games.
And in both rugby and volleyball, the referee’s word is law. They do their best to be fair and non-partisan, but they make the occasional bad call.
In hockey, a mistake by a ref is always met with profane and obscene ranting by the coaches. It’s easy to lip read, eh?
In volleyball, a sideways glance or sarcastic word earns a yellow card. Complain again and a red card signals ejection from the game. No questions asked.
Rugby refs are also respected, with harsh penalties for jawing after a call.
Before I knew it, the match was at the 40-minute mark – intermission. England had a commanding lead, even while playing one man short after a red card (for head contact) in the third minute.
There were a few other English rugby fans in the pub, all seeming to be knowledgeable and intense. So few stoppages in play and no commercial breaks or “TV timeouts.”
No pads on the players and such toughness in their eyes. The physicality defies description and somehow the thick players don’t get injured all the time.
Let’s face it: in the U.S. and Canada, 19-year-old university football players often weighing close to 300 pounds is not normal human behaviour. Shhh, don’t mention human growth hormone usage: HGH and steroids are dirty little secrets in football and hockey.
Rugby players are so fit, so strong, so chiselled. So thick. Gluttons for punishment in the open field and in the scrum.
John Carlin, in his epic book “Invictus,” describes the 1995 Rugby World Cup and how Nelson Mandela used South Africa’s Springbok team to unite his nation, fractured after 50 years of apartheid.
The book is exhausting to read, as Carlin combines on-field and off-field elements, including his physical description of the players in the forward “pack.”
They were more normal-sized than many of the Springboks who do their thing in the scrum.
“Their faces were less fearsome, their noses less misshapen, their ears not deformed by hours and hours of rubbing against thick, hairy thighs in the sweaty, heaving meat factory of the scrum,” he wrote.
Tell me this isn’t fabulous writing.
Sport at its best, and sportsmanship at its highest level. Rugby and volleyball, respect for the rulebook, and magnificently talented athletes who play for the love of the game.
I couldn’t believe it, but I watched an entire 80-minute game, rarely taking my eyes off the screen. I don’t remember ever watching an entire hockey, football or, yawn, baseball game.
Simply a fine Sunday afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake. My favourite town.