The Original Rules of Rugby

Jeremy Harding writes:

Twenty years ago at Eden Park, Auckland, as the minutes ticked down to the final of the first rugby union world cup, a correspondent for Libération caught the mood in the French changing room. ‘The players enter without a word … A few coughs, the sound of shoes and bags dropped on the floor. Almost immediately the rasping sound of adhesive tape torn from spools. It will never stop. The strapping of ears and limbs.’ Slowly the talk builds. Pierre Berbizier, the scrum-half, tells the players: ‘Breathe out, get your wind. Find your balance; now shift your balance.’ Jacques Fouroux, coach and former captain (a.k.a. ‘le petit caporal’), urges the forwards and half-backs to inspire ‘confidence in the three-quarters’. Half an hour in, the reporter notes: ‘Constant to-ing and fro-ing of players to the toilets.’ Someone announces: ‘Ten minutes, lads.’ Moments before they emerge into the stadium someone else says: ‘As soon as the anthems start, we form a circle. They’re not going to break our balls.’ It’s a reference to the haka, the All Blacks’ intimidating dance, performed before each game in front of the opposition, and sometimes met by an unconvincing couldn’t-care-less huddle. In the event the French faced it out.

(LRB 18 October 2007)