Language & Rugby's Ankle Tap

I made an amazing linguistic discovery yesterday as I was watching the Rugby Championship match between New Zealand and Argentina.

For many years ruggers have had at their disposal a dark tool of defensive domination called the "Irish tackle". The Irish since time immemorial have a reputation for tackling high, for hitting the ball carrier around the shoulder, embracing his neck, and riding him down. When I started playing I was taught to "Irish tackle" to create turnovers by getting under the runner, grabbing his collar, and wrestling him down forward, so that he'd fall away from his team and leave the ball unprotected. The Irish have embraced this part of their rugby heritage, to the point that during the last World Cup, the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece about Ireland's famous "choke" tackles, entitled Ireland Will Hug You To Death. The Irish have perfected the art of standing the player up instead of knocking him down when tackled. This creates in the other team the responsibility to get the ball to the ground; if they cannot, it's a turnover.

Besides the fact that this is tactical genius, it makes people not want to play the Irish because your neck will hurt. And it's good to have a reputation like that. You know, like how no one wants to be at the bottom of a ruck with a Polynesian.

So that's the Irish tackle. It's a fearsome thing.

There's another tackle in rugby that nobody likes. Nobody fears it, but it's super-annoying if you're the team with the ball. It doesn't happen in American football as often as it does in rugby, but odds are you've seen it in action: the ankle tap. The player gets past you, you dive out in desperation and slap at his ankles. He falls like timber.

I hate it. It's always some little man. (More below the video.)

This classic tackle, which I'll admit is to be admired, but which is on the sneaky, underhanded, and cunning side of things, is called in English simply the "ankle tap". Straightforward. Free of judgement. Simply a description.

This weekend I was watching, as I said at the top of the show, Argentina against New Zealand. The feed I was watching was Argentine, so the announcers spoke Spanish. Early in the game their long-legged super-fast winger, Juan Imhoff, broke through the line and was running free, until one of the kiwis came up from behind and got shim with a...*drum roll*...tackle frances! Yes! The ankle tap is called in Spanish the "French tackle".

French tackle. Perfect. I'll never us the phrase "ankle tap" again.

I have elsewhere enjoyed linguistic humor at the expense of our French friends. Their rugby is played with flair, finesse, and Chabal. Do they deserve this treatment?

Maybe a little bit.