RATHBONE: Refs, rattling bones and the riddle of the Rugby Man

Clyde Rathbone Columnist

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    Rugby fans everywhere have a gripe about the ref. Maybe, just maybe, that is what holds us all together? (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

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    A few weeks ago a pleasant stroll through the farmers’ market was interrupted by a Rugby Man.

    Really it was my own fault, I made fleeting eye contact with a potbellied man in a rugby jersey – at a farmers’ market.

    It was a rookie mistake and my newfound acquaintance wasted no time punishing me for it. He launched into a detailed analysis of all the recent Super Rugby matches and then segued into the “horrifying” effect referees were having on the game.

    Rugby Man really didn’t like referees.

    As his gesticulations reached a climax I wondered if perhaps he was having a seizure, truth be told part of me hoped he was, at least then I could have departed the bizarre monologue from which there appeared to be no escape.

    Eventually Rugby Man ceased quaking long enough to ask me what I thought of all this. Tempted as I was to tell him the truth – which was that I’d not thought about any of his claims until he mentioned them – I also knew I was dealing with a professional. I was dealing with a man who wouldn’t take “who cares” for an answer. He cared, a lot, and deep in his bones he must have thought I did too.

    So I mumbled something about being too busy to catch all the games and that being a referee is a thankless job at the best of times. Rugby man could not accept this, it was though I had uploaded a faulty script to the central processing unit of his brain.

    “But the refs are killing the game maayte” he said. At this point I longed for a charitable solution, some way I could make a small token donation to a cause I didn’t care for and make a hurried exit. A coin slot atop the head of Rugby Man would have been perfect.

    “Um, I guess it doesn’t help that the rules keep changing and the refs have to adapt quickly” I said, now praying for a quick death. “MAAAAYTE, I’m telling ya the refs are killing the game, everything’s a bloody penally these days, it shits me to tears Maaayte!”

    How had this happened, and why? Normally I can spot Rugby Men a mile off and I’ve spent a career arming myself with escape tactics, but in retirement I’d gone soft. I was off my game and I’d been caught out by a true believer. I was going to have to take this like a man, which is to say I was going to have to lie through my teeth and give him what he wanted.

    “You know I think you’re right, most refs are pretty pedantic”.

    Rugby Man looked at me as though our souls had become one, as if the brotherhood of Rugby Men would remain forever unblemished by reason. He slowly extended his arm while retaining eye contact and nearly rattled my bones to dust with a vigorous handshake.

    “I always knew you were fair dinkum” he said, before vanishing as quickly as he had appeared.

    Clyde Rathbone
    Clyde Rathbone

    Former Wallaby & Brumby Clyde Rathbone retired from rugby in 2014. Clyde is a writer, speaker and technology startup founder. A Roar columnist since 2012, you can follow Clyde via his Twitter page.