All Blacks, Arthur, battle of Waterloo, gallipoli, islanders, Jonny Wilkinson, Merlin, Native American Indians, Northern Hemisphere, percical, Playing Fields of Eton, Rugby Union, Rupert Brooke, Southern Hemisphere, The Fisher King, The Great Spirit, Zen Archer
Watching yet another decimation of a northern hemisphere side by a southern hemisphere side; the All Blacks to be precise, I found myself and a very old friend of mine, Robert Calcraft, contemplated WTF is the problem.
My punt, pardon the pun was this. That in watching three replays and the speed of hands and feet from the All Blacks, something became suddenly and conspicuously obvious. The leaden man-to-man game of the northern hemisphere was being rent asunder by a higher order of game that mesmerised for very good reason. And in the the hypnotic focus lay the answer.
I realised that in every replay I was transfixed by the passage of that beautiful white elliptical object as it traversed the field on its way to (99.9%) certain grounding. I paid no heed to the player whose hands it passed through. They were unimportant, Simply stewards of something greater than them.
And the way of the Zen archer came to mind: exceptional precision made true and absolute by obsessing on every influence on the flight of the arrow – the tensile nature of the bow, the tension of the gut string, the cleat at the root of the arrow, the integrity and nature of the wood shaft, the exception of the feather flight, the perfect symmetry and the weight of the arrow tip – no interest in what comes before -the archer – or what will follow – the target. Everything centred on one pure exception of flight.
Suddenly against our Northern obsession with player, cult of personality, physical engineering and endless ruminating on position and play – everything rooted in a pedestrian passing from hero to zero – their pure focus on the passage of that elliptical god from one end of the field to the other made absolute sense to me.
Perhaps the real gift of the islanders and the Maori to the world of Rugby is a zen connectedness with the passage of everything other than the mortal through time and space. A oneness that every tribal member shares. A connectedness to the great spirit, the cosmic fizz, the sky warrior. Where every man is subject to the greater forces – a mere tourist for a moment or a lifetime in their ability to capture the North and West winds in their palm – to turn them and shape them to some purpose on their way forth.
In this way perhaps they are spiritually unfettered from the need to render school boy heroes from each player, to sculpt and set up for adulation. The tribal and war like islanders remain untouched by the need to create Victorian Boys Annual giants of endeavour from their ranks.
They keep squaring a circle that we have long forgotten how to draw. We once believed that great battles were won before they were fought. We understood that, like the war games of Spartan youth, ones greatest war like prowess is explored and exercised in a childlike or bloodless (ish) game – by the future warriors and leaders of our tribes and people as a proxy for real war.
But the warriors of the southern hemisphere do not and never have succumbed to the industrial arrogance of the pre Victorian military idyll and pomp that we turned that belief into – as Waterloo being won on the Paying Fields of Eton. Each man stands both individual and inextricably connected to the atomic and spiritual world in which they exist – as a continuum of existence in adversity – simplest the latest in a long line of warriors.
There is something almost other worldly in watching the islanders at their best playing fluid and breathtaking rugby. Each is capable of becoming part of the warrior elite but they seem consumed by something greater. You cant play at this. To us in the Northern hemisphere it might seem very self conscious and over worked BUT it is complete and creates complete rugby in its wake.
Southern Hemisphere players (and I focus on the islanders here as in them and in their fierce open style are the root of the southern hemisphere advantage) do not need the status of born leader to raise themselves up.
One of their heroes, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, a maori of good family but not of chiefly stock, was renowned for his fierce warrior abilities and powerful personality. This collision between the tribal model of greatness – earned seized vital active – and the old Empire model of greatness – gifted entitled applied assumptive – sits like a thorn betwixt many of the Southern and Northern Hemisphere conflicts and partnerships.
The Empire minded industrial colonial machine is at work in English rugby. We are not set free by Jerusalem but imprisoned by it – damned by the leaden machines of its satanic mills. When the Lamb of God does appear in our secular England it usually to be seen leaving the green and pleasant field to be salted rubbed in oil and sprigged for the oven on a Sunday.
The parts of Britain which still make room for and celebrate their pre Christian selves still seem to find something ‘magical’ in their game that I just cannot see in ours.
Their players seem rendered from a different clay. Ours are shaped by the Boys Own Annuals that celebrated the predominance or our great British (for which read Norman English but with a Scottish Bank and Merchant Class, and Welsh Scots & Irish armies) cultural authority over ‘voodoo native cultures with their ‘dreadful’ barbarism: an ethnic snobbery that began with the sneery dismissal of the barbarous Welsh and pagan Irish and heathen Scots.
So with The Maori culture – a tribal culture that celebrates the elemental mysticism myths and legends of its past in the present.
In this way the Maori (mortals) and the Wairu (Gods) enjoy a similar relationship to the Mythic cycles of Nordics, Celts (Gaels) and the native Red Indian. Cultures and societies who are still meaningfully connected or unprepared to dismiss or decry the Elemental mysticism or supernature of their people
There have been times recently when the ‘magic’ that occurred between the Leinster and Munster players when on the field playing for Ireland takes on the nature of a living myth. (Unsurprising that the epics of Fionn mac Cumhaill were played out across the lands and ranges of Leinster & Munster.)
These moments for me capture the pure spirit of them; when the long shadow of their prehistory and the mystical nature of their people rises up for even but a moment. A moment when we see the Tuatha Dé Danann at work in the world – as they take a journey from Gods into kings and heroes
The Welsh similarly in the Four Acts of the Mabinogi track the journey from pre-christian deities into heroes and Kings. And behind their Christianity lies a well head of something far deeper and rooted in the rocks, caves and valleys of their past.
It is much the same with their celtic gallic cousins. We can’t fail to be inspired in those brief moments when the ancient gallic super-nature of the French rises up and over the ‘intellect’ of their more recent aristocratic revolutionary selves to rip across the field.
Indomitability over the machine – the engineered society rent asunder by something more primal – is a reoccurring theme enjoyed the world over. Indomitability for many French lies in the characters of Asterix and Obelix. Their ability to rip up the best of the Roman Empire’s legions through a mystical potion prepared by the druid, Getafix, is played out again and again on rugby fields when the All Blacks meet the English on the field. We represent the arrogant machine and they the elemental spoilers of our party. And the difference that lies between a team that is rooted in its elemental mystical culture and one rooted in its slightly jaded right of entitlement to rule is plain to see.
The Maori and islander races look like they are stewarding the great north winds through their hands from the mountains to the sea.
The English look like they’re moving the farm machinery from the barn to the lower field.
Christian cultures especially those of the Empire minded colonial kind have created a culture that – though it can dig deep to achieve its ambitions and objectives – is incapable of reaching into the super nature of the very earth on which it stands – because we’ve written out and over the Pagan that rooted us in that land and its spirits and then written off the Christian that obscured the pagan.
The Haka may well have become for all intents and purposes a simple piece of brand theatre (I feel the hand of Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi in there somewhere), the one thing it does is simply remind every All black at the commencement of every game that their starting point – their focus and their ‘super-nature’ – starts from a different point to everyone else.
One only had to look at some of the Idents in the World cup coverage that featured the Kiwi players in their local club environment. It does not surprise me that behind them stand Mountains better placed in the mystic swirl of Lord Of The Rings, as opposed to the smoke stacks of middle England.
In fact some would say that the New Zealand version of heart of darkness has delivered an indomitable foe. That the Richie MaCaws and the Dan Carters are effectively the descendants of Northern hemisphere farmers who have ‘gone native’ – who have rendered themselves Maori in heart through some cultural Colonel Kurtz moment of revelation. (Delusional? perhaps. But something is going on in there!)
What of the Tri-Nations cousins one might ask, Surely Southern Hemisphere rugby football is not just about the All Blacks and maori tribal mysticism?
Perhaps not. But the shifting nature of the game in the southern hemisphere has been shaped by a relentless succession of All Blacks victories. And in the end even the Dutch Boer farmers of the Transvaal and the red dust farmers of middle Australia will eventually apply the ‘if you cant beat them join them’ rule. And if you’re playing them often enough you’ll learn very quickly. As they have.
So where does that leave us? Way behind.
What’s the answer? My punt? Hire Time Team to rekindle the Briton inside English rugby football. (It’s unsurprising to me that the West Country and the Northern reaches provide us with some of our greatest and most spirited players! – strongholds of regional cultures rooted in something more akin to the mystical, mythical and druidic.)
There was a time when we happily concurred with the old beliefs – that the people and the land are one. And in turn the greatest of those people – the King – is capable of effecting the nature and spirit of super-nature itself. We believed in our connectedness and elemental one-ness with the earth under us.
Cue Bluffers guide to Arthurian myth part 1. The Fisher King (English rugby) is wounded. The Fisher King is in trouble – impotent as is the land around him. We need Percival and a super druid to sort this shit out.
Our issue will be that we ignore The Fisher King of English Rugby football at our peril.
There was a time when we gladly recognized the deep roots of our connectedness – our supernatural selves – to the land beneath us and the myths and legends it spawned.
But unlike our Celtic and Gallic cousins and certainly all of the other world tribes who still happily ascribe to their supernaturally rooted selves, we are incapable of wearing this connectivity lightly. To us the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap gives a good bearing on what the average Brit Rugby player thinks of mysticism.
We dismiss as voodoo or hippy crap anything that smacks of it. Because our ascendency was marked by the control of nature not the respect and communion with it – in the mining of our dark satanic empire mills and the tilling of our distant colonial plantations and fields.
We need to let lose the Merlin in our people – especially those on the rugby field.
They need to ride the dragon’s breath. (And that isn’t a euphemism for the fug that floats around inside the scrum 73 minutes into any given game.)
To find our own version of the Zen Archer – to reveal the part of us that acts intuitively, rooted in a fluid understanding of the metaphysics of matter as it passes through the world we inhabit – we need to be respectful of forces we cannot see hear nor comprehend.
Which brings us back to the view of a team where every player is in service to the passage of something greater than them.
To them it seems like a dream is being passed along and down the line of their ancestors from player to player. To us it looks like a pasty just hot out of the microwave at GREGGS being passed along the bus-stop.
Anyway. If we’re lucky the super-nature of the Maori inspired All Blacks might just fall apart under the weight of some Dutch Afrikaans tractors and we can breathe a sign of relief and re assert our gentleman farmers guide to rugby football.
If we’re lucky all this mystical cobblers is just that – a rumination on a cloudy friday afternoon; meaningless under the towering auspices of what northern hemisphere and English rugby in particular are yet to unleash
But then again it just might not be.