And when the scrum packs down for the famous eight-man push, there are a few ghosts in there: Pinetree Meads, Ken Gray, Waka Nathan, Kel Tremain, Wilson Whineray, Tiny White, to name but a few. That's some shove.
We could sit down for a jar, you and me, and swap a few tales to make us both feel at home: our first ever rugby ball, for instance. (Mine when I was five, a golden orb on the mantelpiece, between the Pictorial History of the Second World War and a decade's worth of National Geographic; how my dad weathered it with mutton grease, then seared my initials into the leather with a red-hot poker.) Or we could speak of the first time we rose with fathers, elder brothers, sisters, mothers, at 3am, wrapped in blankets, hot cocoa in hand, and gathered around the wireless (Down Under, out of sight, severed from the mother country a still-raw oedipal scar?) to hear the All Blacks validate our existence, demand recognition, some respect, brother, on a feted foreign field. We've all been there.
We could boast to each other about those first tries we scored, barefoot in a morning frost and laugh about the mums and dads on the touchline, shouting, as if it were a matter of life or death. It was. We could speak of the long red weal of aluminium studs, chastisement for being trapped on the wrong side of the ruck; or aftermatch functions - cold beers and lukewarm meat pies, tea ladies and bad speeches.
Or we could talk about drama: the Boks' tour of '81. Can't be many countries brought to the brink of civil war over rugby. Then there's Greg McGee, Junior All Black, and his lauded state-of-the-nation rugby play.
We could discuss the haka. Glad to see you've put it back on a proper footing. There's conviction there now, there's pride. There's, well, a terrifying physical poetry.
First poem I wrote was it about love lost, or metaphysics? Nope. It was about the despair felt at an All Black drubbing. Good grief, Sean, I didn't know the difference between rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter.
There is poetry in the game. Fifteen men in black, drilled to perfection: all those unseen skills in rucks and mauls, handed down the generations, turning up the ball for the Bunce punch through the centre, raging Pene at shoulder, close feed to Joseph, to ground and back to Forster, Ellis, Timu into the line, Bunce again, Tuigamala from the other wing and out to Wilson. C'mon Black]
England expects. New Zealand demands. You won't let us down, will you, Sean? I wasn't cut out to be a poet.
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