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In praise of … rugby.

WHEN I say I've come relatively late to rugby, it's not just a hazy figure of speech.

It was only two Saturdays ago that I realised how tense and exciting it can be.

I’m deeply unfamiliar with the game’s finer details and even now could only tell you the difference between rugby union and rugby league if I have Wikipedia up on my laptop.

However, while channel-surfing early one morning two weekends ago, the Rugby World Cup came up. I was about to hit the off switch when it registered, first, that Scotland were playing England, and, second, that Scotland were actually ahead.

If I understood the commentators correctly, the game wasn’t one for the purists – “chaotic” was the word used by Scotland’s lead physiotherapist, Paul McGinley, in his Scottish Rugby Union website blog – but it was riveting, and emotionally charged in a way that only a game between two ancient rivals can be.

What struck me was the physical brawn and grace of the players, the urgency and frequency which which possession changed hands, and the Scots’ tigerish fight to establish and hold on to the eight-point lead they needed to qualify. Then, that electrifying finish as England finally won – or, as McGinley put it, “drama, heartache, and the sickening feeling of being denied what seemed just”.

The skills and relentless pace on show in other quarter-finals have been evident, too. It’s also clear that the referee’s decision is final; he isn’t pursued by swarms of angry players intent on changing his mind for him, which is what often happens on Match of the Day.

France take on Wales in today’s semi-final. The good news is that it’s a 9am start. For someone who watches hardly any sport on TV, I’m strangely hooked.

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