Rod MacKenzie
Rod MacKenzie

Liquid Viagra: Comparing descriptions of wines and rugby players

Have you noticed the rugby critics’ poetic descriptions of beefy rugby stars? Yes, those gladiators who are all about to knock the bejesus out of one other in the quest for victory in the new World Cup? Oh, those scholarly sports writers and their strained attempts to create an elegant portrait of yet another testosterone-laden powerhouse from, say, New Zealand, or a double-door fridge with whirling legs and arms from Samoa, or a brick house from South Africa. The pile-up of adjectives and verbs begin to blur. They begin to look a lot like the extravagant, absurd, descriptions you find of many wines.

Here is a typical example of what I mean with the key words missing:

A big, full-bodied … boldly assertive on and off the …

Is this a great wine or a great rugby player? You could put in the spaces the words flank and field. Or you could replace those with the words red wine and palate. The correct answer? Rugby player. Of course, it is also a common descriptor of a red wine, which, for example, you will find here.

There is something so sensual — even sexual because of the collocation of romance and foreplay — about both the taste and description of wines that it is not unlike the bombastic rugby critics’ portrayals of rugby players and their performance. There has to be, if you think about it. All those beefy, ripped lads madly falling over each other, squeezing each other’s bodies, including, all too often, succulent items such as thighs and arses as they try to get a firm grip on one another or just one, leathery ball. How do you describe … all that? No wonder apparently more women watch rugby than men. If I was gay I could happily go where their thoughts go. It would replace my love for watching hours of women’s tennis when the missus is not around. In fact gay sex makes a lot more sense when I see those steak-fed, unshaven hunks wrench jerseys and shorts off each other in their desperate attempt to gain possession of … you know what. And in the glorious disarray of clothing you get to glimpse that superb, glistening ripple of abdominal muscles and tight ass as the ball holder pulls away from the fierce clutches of his pursuer. Their gorgeously rounded bottoms and their torsos jostle with all that effort as they come out of a less than tender maul. Pity about those huge bear-traps called gum-guards when they grin on crossing the touch line. That is one part that is a turn-off for the gals, surely. Yet, again, how do you analytically describe in a rugby mag all … that?

The latest Rugby News World Cup Special magazine in New Zealand is crammed with sensual portraits of our rugby gladiators. Take this impassioned and rather over-ambitious description of Ireland’s newish centre, Robbie Henshaw, who has taken over from Brian O’Driscoll: “ … A certain trepidation of stage fright — like a virgin faced with his moment of truth — may be acceptable when taking over from an icon like O’Driscoll”.

Rugby, wine, aphrodisiacs … who’d have thought they would be willing bed-mates? Of course they are. All three are about sensuality and physicality, bringing out the grinning, unabashed beast in all of us. The sensuality of describing wines shades into the sexuality of depicting foreplay, and all of that is remarkably similar to the palette of words used in a variety of portrayals of well-endowed rugby players.

Here’s a few more from Rugby News World Cup Special:

This is a rather abstract one of South Africa’s Damian de Allende: “Happy to mix it physically [!] … has shown the speed and balance also to create and take space on the outside when offered”. (On the outside of what? The bed? The field?)

Other descriptions in New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup Special are phallic wonders. Here’s a couple:

England’s Jonathan Joseph: “ … will surely be the razor-sharp rapier blade that slices through the opposition …

Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny: “ … for a small man he’s good in the air with excellent leg power, timing …

Wow. We need to pause on Wales’ offering. Good in the air? Excellent leg power? It makes one think of certain erotic movie scenes that are now a meme in the way sex is done in Hollywood. The meme goes like this. The lusting hero cannot wait any longer and lifts into the air the equally horny heroine. He holds her up against him and her naked legs wrap around his torso. Her arms drape around his neck as he rushes her to the bed. For examples, check out Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche’s passionate, elegant legwork beneath the posts in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Then there is the more urgent, gasping, pummelling motions ending in a tight collapse over the finish line (of the mattress) as presented by Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo in The Line of Fire. Those are memorable scrum moments. A word has to be coined for this erotic meme in movies, something that signifies “the-hunk-barges-through-the-door-with-chick’s legs-wrapped-round-his-ripped-torso”. “Butt-lift” is too crass. However, to borrow a bit from ballet terminology, derriere-ballon might do.

“Lights, camera and … derriere-ballon! And … cut, cut. Clint, we need a much sturdier, bolder pace. Show us exactly where you want to take Rene. And scoop her up please.”

Perhaps I digress a tad from rugby and wine. Nah, not really. I am pointing out how the use of language, when strained to match sensual experience and visual, athletic magnificence, has a similar palette, whether it refers to wine, erotica or contemporary rugby. It’s all over the place in write-ups about rugby stars

Tusi Pisi: “burst to prominence …
Serge Blanco: “A breathtaking runner …
Tim Nanai-Williams: “ … offers a rare versatility that allows … to play any position …

Perhaps I am over-reaching. However, that is one of the tasks of poetic language, to push back the boundaries of the knowable, and often to risk the absurd. I mean, ye gods, look at this evocation of a wine with my exclamation marks in square brackets:

… the aromatics offer incredible aromas of dried flowers, beef blood, spice, figs, sweet black currants and kirsch, smoked game, lavender, and sweaty but attractive saddle leather-like notes. Full-bodied and massively endowed [!!], with abundant silky tannins, it possesses the balance to age for 30+ years.

Thirty years indeed. About the same age as a superb, well-matured rugby player in his prime, who exudes the aroma of enormous sexuality, still unbridled and unsaddled, but acceptably sweaty.

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