Tomorrow evening, all being well, I shall settle in front of the television to support Argentina against France in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup.
It’s not that I have any Argentine blood or personal connections, nor even a sense of liberal guilt over the Falklands. It’s not that Los Pumas play a particularly attractive brand of rugby – the sight of their famous rolling maul has been likened to watching a tractor in low gear. No, I shall be cheering Argentina purely because they are the underdogs.
I am not sure whether it is nature or nurture but I seem fated to take support for the underdog a little beyond the ordinary. This applies to all my main interests in life: sport, books, music and politics alike. Sometimes this is just a matter of fate, sometimes deliberate choice. I am half-Scottish and half-English, but have always been a Scotland supporter – influenced by my Scottish father and growing up in Scotland. The other teams I support - Coventry City, Watford, Montrose and Dundee at football, Coventry and London Scottish at rugby are all perpetual underdogs, although the latter two were once upon a time top dogs.
The problem with the Rugby World Cup, compared with its soccer equivalent is that too many games are a foregone conclusion – the top dog almost always prevails, usually with a comfortable margin of victory. The advent of professionalism has reinforced this. Nonetheless, Argentina, are the one team outside rugby’s eight ‘founder nations’ to put together a team that can challenge the best. For their troubles, they have not been allowed to join either of the two major annual international tournaments – the Tri-Nations and the Six Nations – and have got another rotten draw in the World Cup. Rugby needs to expand its horizons beyond the traditional nations. Argentina beating France tomorrow evening would be a good start.