This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with the Queen’s Christmas message to the people of Planet Rugby!*
It is at times like these, as we gather around to celebrate Christmas with loved ones, that thoughts often turn to rugby.
Things are no different within my own house(s), where Philip and I can oft be found debating the true meaning of ‘accidental offside’ and mulling over whether Kyle Sinckler jumped into that tackle by Charlie Faumuina.
Be this as it may, it would not be Christmas without this moment to reflect upon the year that is rapidly receding behind us, and to look forward, with hope, to the new one ahead.
Yes, as I might have already alluded, 2017 was dominated by the British & Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand.
The scriptures tell us of a lowly baby, born of poor parents, who went on to achieve many great things. Philip and I were reminded of the Christmas story as we watched the tourists’ progress in the land of the long white cloud. We had expected them to be smote in their infancy but they went on to earn the respect and admiration of the world, and we thank them for reminding us about the value of belief, tenacity, teamwork and, ultimately, stout, old-fashioned defensive patterns.
Of course, some have said that the final result was tempered – if not tainted – by a couple of questionable moments of arbitration, and I doff my crown to the people of New Zealand for accepting their fate with courtesy and good grace.
Indeed, bar certain sections of the New Zealand media, it was a contest fought in the right spirit both on and off the field, and it reminded Philip and I of the reasons why we fell in love with the sport of rugby all those years ago.
Buoyed by these warm fuzzies, we look forward to 2018 and to hearing how rugby’s administrators plan to ensure the survival of the Lions. Despite what they say, it cannot be beyond the wit of man to grant this wildly popular institution the space it needs to breathe and prosper. Just look at it this way: if I chanced upon a golden goose wandering around one of my royal estates, I would not take aim with my 12 bore. That would be absolutely ludicrous, right?
Moving swiftly on to other areas of the Test stage, we enjoyed the most attractive Six Nations of, well, perhaps all time. We look forward to more of the same in the new year, with our enthusiasm further enhanced by the resurgence of Scotland. The Duke of Edinburgh and I are fed up with false dawns, so here’s hoping that Gregor Townsend really can spark a brand new day.
And whilst I exert little sway over the destiny of France, I cannot be the only one hoping that they rediscover their swagger. World rugby is a poorer place for the absence of their élan of old.
Italy, meanwhile, need all the love and support that they can muster. They need at least one win to ward off the growing challenge posed by Georgia. Heck, just a single tournament point would help!
It must be said that the Rugby Championship left fewer indelibles on the memory, and the prospect of the forthcoming edition of the tournament does not rouse me in the way it once did. This is perhaps down to New Zealand continuing to be at least a class and a half apart. But there’s something else missing – and it’s not just the challenge of Argentina, Australia and South Africa. Could it be that we’ve had too much of a good thing?
With that thought in mind, we ask for peace between club and country and pray that our leaders have the wherewithal to forge more equitable and sustainable use of joint resources.
And so we pray also for the wellbeing of the players, and hope that they are protected not just from injury but also from oppressive workloads and unreasonable expectations.
Rugby has long provided a bastion of peace from the querulous world which we have brought into being, and our final hope is that this space is maintained and respected by the collective actions of us, the fans.
So go in peace to love and serve our sport. Support your team from the heart and applaud the opposition’s moments of class. Embrace your opposite number when you chance upon them in the stand, and embark on post-match celebrations in the knowledge that we are all one – and never forget for a single moment that it’s all just a game.
So in the spirit of rugby, we wish you a peaceful Christmas and a very happy new year!
* Her Majesty was very obviously not in conversation with former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson