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August 12, 2004

George Bush and Yale Rugby.

Following a comment to this post of mine I am led via the Irish Lass to QandO, The Pirate's Blog and Balloon Juice. They, in turn, are making fun of the interpretation put on a photo of GWB playing rugby at This Modern World and subsequent comments at Matt Lavine, The Expat and The Blog From Another Dimension.
Have a look at the photo as the argument is over whether GWB is tackling illegally, too high, and swinging a punch. Modern World puts it this way (and is then copied elsewhere):

Incidentally, while rugby is a contact sport, every player knows that tackling above the shoulders is a foul. So is leaving your feet during a tackle. Either of these is serious enough that the other team is immediately awarded a penalty kick, often directly resulting in points for the other team.
So even without throwing a punch, Bush is already well outside fair play.

Well, no. As The Pirate's Blog points out, the rules on high tackles changed while GWB was Governor of Texas. Before that it was "dangerous tackle" which was the offense. After the change, any tackle above shoulder level was to be assumed and ruled to be dangerous. Even in today's lexicon of refereeing, with the new rule in place, it is unlikely that that would be a too high or dangerous tackle. Quite apart from the fact that it isn't under the old rules. For sometimes people bend over you see, or bend at the knees. If you are aiming for someone's chest, they bend at the knee, where do you hit? Too high. Very good, full marks. Now, should you be penalised because your opponent bent down? No. Look at the knees of the guy getting tackled. Is he upright? No. Penalty? No.
The thing about the tackler not being allowed to take his feet off the ground is simply nonsense. You are not allowed to tackle someone else when they are in the air, true. But that is the tacklee's feet, not the tackler. Here
for proof.
Looking at the photo myself I would say that it's being read all wrong by Atrios and the crowd.
Just a little background. Back in those days scrumcaps were really only worn by second row forwards and the occasional prop. GWB is just under six feet and now about 190 lbs. Perhaps 20 lbs lighter then. A second row is usually (was, back then, now they're about 6 foot 8 ) 6 ft 4 to 6 and weighed 220- 240 lbs. Again, at that time, no padding of any sort was allowed (other than the scrum cap. The aim of those is to avoid ears like this.) so what we are actually seeing is something rather brave. Two people are running towards each other, one 60 - 80 lbs heavier and 4-6 inches taller than the other. No padding, no helmet, no armor. Be that smaller guy a few times and then say that he's a coward.
Now I agree that I could be wrong. Without seeing the whole event it's difficult to know whether GWB has just failed to tackle him and the clenched fist is the one that just missed grabbing the shirt, or whether it is as some think, a fist travelling towards the face while he's being fended off. My take is the former, but why should you listen to me?
Before I explain that I should point out that the odd flailing fist is nothing unusual. It's called "handbags" and is quite different from real malice. A few people get heated and wave fists around, the ref blows up, says to settle down and the game goes on. And to give you an idea of how vicious the game could be back when GWB was playing, have a look here.
McBride lay down his law early on, before the tour departed, and invited any that were not prepared to forget any gentlemanly feelings to leave the party. None did, and McBride forged a squad that were not prepared to lay down and take the flack as previous British Lions sides had been accused of.
Beginning with the infamous '99' call, and finishing with the destruction of a hotel suite, McBride's Lions kicked, punched, stamped... and ran, and ran, and ran, and beat their Springbok opposition by three tests to none, with the last test drawn. It is difficult not to accept that the Lions did not actually win the fourth test, with a dying minutes try, but the story goes that the referee - a local South African of course in those days - feared for his life had he given it. In retrospect the tour contained much that would be castigated, and quite rightly so, today... the blatant thuggishness, and open vandalism would quite possibly land those players in court today, but the camaraderie and team spirit forged a belief and a brotherhood that was virtually invincible, and shocked the home side's supporters. Even Phil Bennett allegedly hit someone. Once. When no one was looking.

The "99" call referred to was that when the captain shouted it, every member of the team was to simply hit the nearest member of the opposition. They'd had enough of the rough play. You might also want to know that the British Lions are the best players of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales who get together once every four years to tour S Africa, Australia or New Zealand. They are the very best the rugby world produces, so perhaps you can see that , even if GWB was throwing a punch, it's not considered all that important.

Well, I started playing rugby when I was ten and finished 23 years later after dislocating my shoulder twice in one week. I was never very good but played, amongst others, for this club, West Potomac where we would play against college sides. Willaim and Mary and Charlottesville are two I remember, I think also one in Rockville (U of Maryland?). I also played for a precursor to this club when they were called the Lions. So no, my playing career was not a distinguished one. I did grow up in the S West of England though, in a rugby stronghold. I'm not claiming to know all of these people, nor that they know me, but a flavour of the background so as to give you some feeling for whether my views on rugby are worthwhile. This bloke was a manager of the local Building Society (S&L for Americans), this guy was a teacher at my old school (after my time of course), this rented my grandmother's apartment, here is someone who worked for the local gas board, I've been thrown out of a nightclub by this one and this guy was a couple of years ahead of me at school. Here's the guy who used to tend bar at a favourite watering hole and this one used to be a carpenter in Moscow when we were there. (Note that rugby was completely amateur until about a decade ago.)
So all of the things I've said about rugby should be taken with a pinch of salt, I was not only rather bad although enthusiastic about the game myself, but I've never been around rugby players nor imbibed the atmosphere.
Yet what I find really amazing about this whole story is that no one yet seems to have connected it with an earlier one about John Kerry in that very same LA Times. It sounds as if they've been very fair. One time someone disses GWB, the previous time it is JFK (From Tim Blair):

He distinguished himself as a soccer star. At Yale, he made the varsity squad and even scored a hat trick against Harvard. So, why isn't Kerry juggling soccer balls or practicing penalty kicks for the cameras? Mr. Kerry, why are you running from your record?
One possible explanation is characterological. Four Four Two, a British soccer magazine, has investigated Kerry's soccer career. Unfortunately, it confirmed the worst stereotype about Kerry: He isn't very decisive.
According to classmates, Kerry preferred dribbling around defenders, rather than using passes to advance the ball. His school team's Scottish manager would urge him not to "diddle with the ball." Apparently, this exhortation stuck as a nickname, "the Diddler."
Others teammates, mostly Democrats, are more sympathetic. They describe Kerry as a good team player, but they still poke fun at his loping stride. His other soccer nickname is "the Camel."

Now, let's go right back to the beginning. GWB might have been putting the crunch in in a game of rugby, although I don't think he was. Various leftist commentators get the rules of the game wrong. JFK, at about the same time, is revealing his character in another game, being known as an indecisive show-off.
And who do you want running the country?
I don't have the vote over there, so it's your choice.
Me, given where I grew up, would always go for the rugby player. Don't worry though, you've got until early November to make up your mind.

August 12, 2004 in Sports | Permalink


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Blair played rugby at school, Major played footy. There again so did Howard who was the only non-rugby player in his class I think.
"He attended Llanelli Grammar School, where, in this hotbed of rugby union, he is said to have asked his headmaster if he and other sixth formers could play football instead."

Doesn't bode well

Posted by: Gawain | Aug 13, 2004 1:55:39 PM

I've played rugby since I was ten. It's is impossible for Bush to do that. Unless a brawl breaks out no player gets punched in open play. From where his feet are in the air I'd say Dubya was chasing the big sod from the behind and was too light so went straight over the top of him, his arms hugging the ballcarrier rather than swinging at him. Still, it's a great photo if you're a neutral in US partisan nonsense.

Posted by: Huntsman | Apr 1, 2006 10:50:43 PM