It has been decades I suspect since I have watched a rugby union match from the beginning to end. Since Scotland beat the hot favourites England at their home stadium for the first in ten years, the superstitious might say I am a good influence. If you are of such a persuasion then it isn’t true, the previous match I saw Scotland play was live at Murrayfield against Ireland when I was in my twenties. Scotland lost. People will tell you that the atmosphere at the stadium is fantastic, the rivalry good natured. I didn’t get it. My abiding memory is standing near the north end of the pitch no being able to see what happening when the ball was down the south end, which seemed to happen an awful lot. Of course I didn’t know I was autistic in those days. Standing in closely packed groups of noisy boisterous men, not really understanding what was going on all around me is not my current understanding of a good time. Then there was the pub crawl afterwards. Everybody was your friend except I couldn’t hear what they were saying so it was a rather lonely unnerving experience. The final straw came when a complete stranger decided it was be good fun to borrow my hat. I didn’t need that kind of attention. I never saw that hat again, and I was very fond of it.
The view of the match on the television is much better. I have the added benefits of being able to control the volume, being indoors and having quick access to food, drink and toilets. With this close up view though the physicality of the game is much more obvious. Because rugby is a contact sport the players are allowed to channel their aggression for the game literally against the other team. There are rules though, a shoulder charge will get you a yellow card and ten minutes off the pitch which seems reasonable when I see the action in slow motion.
The physicality disturbs me though. It seems at random that two opposing players will suddenly be in a confrontation. Others then join in, though whether to support or separate I cannot tell. Earlier on in the first half, a Scotsman is lying on his back his legs held defensively above him. An Englishman is leaning on the legs, one arm outstretched with the hand around the Scotsman’s throat pinning the Scot to the ground. They seem to reach a stalemate. I wonder if the Englishman considers tightening his grip and choking the Scot? The referee comes across and the players separate. The ref seems to say something like, “Are you done now?”, gets agreement from the players and the game continues. Just like that. There is no consequence for this behaviour and I am baffled not only by the ending but how did the confrontation start? I am unnerved and uncomfortable by this random violence without consequence. It continues to happen throughout the game.
The other aspect of the game that troubles me is that tactic of how the team progress down the field most of the time. My idea of rugby is that the ball is won, then passed quickly down the line so that the defenders are spread out and your team then exploits the holes to score a glorious try. Not this game though. It seems to be all about aggression and power. Get the ball, pass it once or twice, then run full tilt at the opposition until the defenders stop you. Repeat until someone goes over the line and scores a try. The game becomes a focus of who manages to keep their hands on the ball (I think) when there is a pile of blokes on top of them. Scotland are awarded many penalties against England during such scuffles. They keep possession and win through in the end. I don’t enjoy watching guys running straight into eat other though. Surely that has got to hurt?
As an Englishman living in Scotland for nearly three decades you may think that I would be in a bit of a dilemma over who to support? And I suppose I am if I put my neurotypical hat on. England is my birth country where I spent my formative years. Scotland is the country I have settled in and helped raise my kids. I don’t have a clear sense of identity for either though I call Scotland home. As an autistic man who makes his own decision though, my main priority is to watch a good game of rubgy that I enjoy. Was it a good game? I don’t know to be honest. There were some standout players I thought and time passed reasonably quickly so that bodes well. Did I enjoy the game? Yes, and no. I didn’t enjoy the random confrontations off the ball, for me it disturbed watching the play. I did however enjoy seeing Scotland win. Scotland has immense pride in itself (rightly one could argue due to the impact Scots have had on the world) but success doesn’t come along very often. I don’t know if it is a British thing or an English thing, but culturally we really like seeing the underdogs come through and win. I can’t say Scotland won in style at the end (due to the second half) but they were very much the underdogs.
The defeat of England at Murrayfield in 2018 will provide much happy conversations for the Scots for years to come. I think it is good to be part of a happy environment even if I don’t really understand it. If only I could match up some of the images in my mind to words, I might even be able to join in on some level. I’m not sure talking about disagreements between players will add to the happiness occasion though.