Sunday, September 28, 2008

They don't make them like that any more.

Submitted with minimal comment: a fine example of sportswriting as a craft.

This Observer piece on rising rugby union star Danny Cipriani. Best read with a clipped british private-school accent in mind. Or David Attenborough. Sorry: Sir David Attenborough.

The archetypal English player is rugged and fearless, not afraid to mix it up. Their approach is caution first, keep it tight, get the three points in the bag. They prided themselves on being the first nation to embrace professionalism, bringing a new physicality to rugby. Think of the heroes of 2003: Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Jonny Wilkinson - is it my imagination or did they, after years of battering, even start to look alike? Their heroic jaws jutting out, expressions glowering and taciturn, their faces like 'a Christmas present from Easter Island', as Philip Larkin memorably described Ted Hughes. Certainly, these are the men whose shadows loom large over the game in England.

The flip side is that you can almost count the number of flamboyant English players on one hand. There was Prince Alexander Obolensky, whose family fled the Russian Revolution in 1917, before settling in Muswell Hill, north London. 'The Prince' made his England debut in 1936 in a 13-0 victory against the All Blacks, the first time New Zealand had been beaten by a home nation; he scored two tries, including one individual effort that covered most of the field and may be the greatest ever scored in England colours. Sadly, he would win just three more caps, and the flying winger died in 1940 at the age of 24, when his Hawker Hurricane crashed in Suffolk. They don't make them like that any more.

1 comment:

MikeP said...

Flamboyant English rugby players would be as common as flamboyant Canadian ice hockey players then, I guess.

I never miss pimping it, so maybe you've seen reference to it already, but William Zinsser's _On Writing Well_ has a section on sportswriting. What you quoted seems to fit in well with Zinsser's ideal.