Sports

Sports: The Return of ‘World In Union’ – Watching the RWC Opening Ceremony

Every four years rugby fans from around the world come together to experience the sport’s ultimate glory – hearing the absolute belter that is World in Union at the start of the Rugby World Cup.

This year’s version of rugby’s great anthem is threaded throughout the tournament’s conceptual 20-minute Michael Jackson music video of an opening ceremony – a world of rugby ghosts, zombies, slam poetry and what appeared to be a Sean Fitzpatrick hologram.

It starts with a fanciful retelling of the sport’s William Webb Ellis origin story – how he picked it up and ran with it, and how since tackling hadn’t been invented yet, nobody could do a bloody thing about it.

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Things diverge drastically from the history books when he finally passes the ball – to a rugby ghost. Once a rugby ghost gets the ball you’re never getting it back. He’ll just pass it to his other rugby ghost mates across the country, including Jonah on a marauding run down an eerily empty back street of Leicester.

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Webb Ellis only gets the ball back for the conversion, after the ghosts finally dot down in a church yard in Exeter. He thumps it so hard it tears through the fabric of space and time and physics. The ball, now much larger than a regulation rugby ball, crashes down right in the middle of Twickenham. No word on whether the conversion was successful or not.

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The turf is clearly ruined. Not sure how they expect to play an international rugby tournament on this. What’s more, the enormous leather meteor has awoken a horde of rugby zombies from beneath the Twickenham turf. This is very dire. But it must mean we’re almost ready for the song.

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Is this guy going to sing it? No chance. He’s here to deliver a few stanzas of rugby-themed slam poetry. The tension is unbearable. The crowd are beside themselves with anticipation. Finally, one boy decides to take matters into his own hands – he pushes his way past security shouting “Enough is enough!”, snatches a mic and and bravely starts singing.

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We’ve waited four long years for this moment. The boy’s sweet, high voice is like a siren’s call, and all who hear it are now powerless but to be extremely rarked up about rugby for the next month. Eventually the real singer takes over, but oddly she has the exact same voice as the boy.

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How long does the song go for? It seems eternal, yet at the same time so fleeting and precious. In the midst of its thrall a mascot for each country is brought out. For some reason it looks like they’ve gone for a holographic Sean Fitzpatrick – pretty sure the real Fitzy would have loved the opportunity to walk out onto Twickenham and wave at the crowd, but what can you do.

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The song does eventually stop. In the same moment everyone snaps out of the trance and realises: shit, there’s meant to be a game of rugby here in 15 minutes. Better start dismantling the set.

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Things hit a snag when one of the rugby zombies spots something atop the giant rugby ball structure. It’s the ruddy World Cup! How’d that get there? There’s no time for PC health and safety – they build a human pyramid and the boy William Webb Ellis climbs up and grabs the cup. There’s the money shot.

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All that’s left to do now is let Prince Harry and Bernard Lapasset say a few words. For the briefest of moments it almost feels like Harry is about to lean into the mic and start singing Chasing Cars, leading the crowd in a rousing impromptu singalong of the Snow Patrol classic, but he doesn’t.

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Instead, he says his Rugby World Cup best man’s speech and then Lapasset, by the powers vested in him by the International Rugby Board, declares the tournament open.

As we drift away for some post-ceremony ads, the crowd sings a deep and heartfelt rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, while the stadium PA blares Right Here Right Now by Fatboy Slim.

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