30 January 2008

If it's Irish, you spell it W-H-I-S-K-E-Y

Yes, with an 'e'. It's from the Gaelic word uisce, pronounced 'ish-keh' and meaning 'water'. Strictly speaking, it's derived from uisce, which is itself an abbreviated form of uisce beatha, which was simply a straight Irish translation of aqua vitae, literally meaning 'water of life', and being a generic term for spirits during the Middle Ages.

Anyway, that's only a minor quibble with an otherwise amusing article in today's Guardian describing a meeting with Irish rugby legend Keith Wood at a Bushmills promotion in London. The part of it I found most interesting was when Wood was asked what he would change about rugby, if could change any one thing.
"Subs," he replies, without hesitation. "I hate them. I think you should have a full front row on the bench and a utility back, all of whom are only allowed to go on if they absolutely need to go on. I used to give the analogy of a boxing match."

He points at me.

"Say it's a 10-round fight and I'm boxing this fella here because he's from Offaly and I don't like him."

Like that's going to go 10 rounds.

"So anyway, we're punching away and I have him exactly where I want him after eight rounds and then he sends in a replacement for the ninth. Obviously that's a ridiculous proposition but it's what happens in rugby. Say you're playing France who always have an unbelievable front row; they're moulded, they're stocky, they're 5ft 10in, they've no neck and 55 to 60 minutes into the game it's like the trumpets sound, they take those three off and put another three on. I just think that's unsporting. That's my view, I just don't like it."

In effect what he's saying that he prefers rugby to be a team game rather than a squad game; I'm inclined to agree, because -- taking international rugby, for example -- the current system definitely favours countries with bigger player bases, which in the Northern hemisphere means England and France. Most rugby-playing nations can probably field a decent enough first fifteen, but for real strength in depth you need a hefty playing base, something the so-called 'Celtic' nations all lack.

Granted, you might counter that tactical substitition reduces injuries, as it allows players to be taken off when they're tired or slightly hurt, preventing them from being more seriously injured, but I'd be curious as to whether there's any data to support that idea.

It's a valid enough point with other sports too, I think, and I can't help but frown at the thought of Everton's chances against Tottenham this evening. David Moyes seems to have drawn on fewer players this season than any other premiership manager, largely because with no money in the bank over the past few years he's opted for slow but steady progress by doing his best to buy quality rather quantity. It's paying dividends, but with Yakubu, Yobo, and Pienaar in Africa, Osman and Gravesen injured, and Cahill and Hibbert suspended he's going to be hard pressed to fill his subs' bench.

You never see the likes of Chelsea in that situation.

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