Matt Williams: The taxi driver did it his way and won hands down

The driver was a good man who deserved a quality answer but it was early Monday morning and as he had rightly identified I was grumpy and ‘rugbyed out’

At 6am last Monday morning a sparkling full moon hung low across Dublin’s western skyline. As I stood admiring the handy work of the cosmos, waiting outside my hotel for my taxi to take me to the airport, it was cold, clear and peaceful.

As Richard Flanagan, the Booker Prize winning Irish-Australian author, so beautifully wrote: “Only the moon and I. On our meeting bridge, alone, growing old.” Those melancholy words said it all. I was tired and all I wanted was a quiet ride to the airport, dreaming of my own bed and a home-cooked meal. After dissecting multiple games across the weekend I was, as they say, “rugbyed out”.

Before the sun was up my preference was for silence. However, if I was cornered and forced to communicate with another member of humanity it would be on any topic other than Irish rugby. Palestine, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, The Donald, Pope Francis’s reforms to the church, an historical review of the Soviet Union’s five-year plan for agriculture in the 1950s, Taylor Swift . . . anything but rugby.

Exceptionally loud music from a highly unexpected source blasted any thoughts of self-pity from my mind. A full throated swing band, backing the classic voice of Frank Sinatra, was bellowing out Bad, Bad Leroy Brown into Dublin’s cold early morning.


The offending decibels were blaring from my approaching taxi. Seemingly while it was still moving the middle-aged driver leapt from the car with more pep in his step than Jurgen Klopp after a stunning Caoimhin Kelleher save. He was screaming along with Sinatra’s chorus. “Bader than old King Kong, meaner than a junkyard dog.”

Something told me that any hope of a quiet ride to my waiting plane was dipping below the horizon much faster than my friendly moon.

Here I made a strategic mistake. I engaged a man who obviously loved his job with sarcasm. “A bit early for Sinatra.” Meaning, turn the bloody thing off.

Like a boxer whose opponent had led with his left but dropped his right, the taxi driver saw an opening and counterpunched. “Never too early for Cranky Franky. I got plenty more. Hop in. I’ll play you some.”

Before I could buckle my seat belt Frank Sinatra, backed by the wailing Nelson Riddle Orchestra, or so my driver informed me, was crooning “I got you under my skin.” I knew exactly how he felt.

After a song or two in solitude the driver glanced in the rear-view mirror a few times before asking: “So you’re that rugby guy?” Every atom of my being wanted to lie. Pull a St Peter and simply deny, deny, deny.

Again, I made a tactical error. I decided to parry. “Which rugby guy?” Maybe he thought I was Rob Kearney.

“The grumpy one.” Cheeky. Two-nil to the taxi driver.

At 6.15am last Monday morning, against all my wishes, hopes and desires, I cracked a smile. This guy was good.

Not waiting for a personal confirmation from his newly-identified cranky passenger, like all the other Dublin taxi drivers I have encountered before him, he started with his confession.

When this ritual starts I have learned to wrap my sport around my neck like a holy stole, reverently invoke the spirit of William Webb Ellis, avert my gaze and sagely nod to allow the guilty to purge themselves. And like so many other taxi drivers before him, he started with “in the past, I didn’t like rugby because it was played by a bunch of snobby private school D4 strollers. But lately I have started to enjoy it.”

I then offer absolution. “My son, that is merely a venial sin of omission. The Game they play in Heaven might still have a drinking problem but we welcome all comers. Just look at Virgin Media’s TV ratings for rugby. Say three Our Fathers, two Hail Mary’s and take a tenner off the fare.”

Absolved and invigorated, I knew what was coming next. I could lip sync his words like he was doing to Sinatra. “Are we going to win the Grand Slam?”

While the real question was, are we ever going to get to the airport?

One benefit of an early morning departure was that M50 was clear and Frank was telling us that “It was a very good year.” And so far, for Ireland, it has been. I thought I could throw my extroverted driver off the track with some footwork.

“Gotta beat England first.”

He did not miss a beat. “Sure, we’ll beat them, won’t we? They’re a load of shite.” As I said, this guy was good.

I was torn on the dilemma that the driver was a good man who deserved a quality answer but it was early Monday morning and as he had rightly identified, I was grumpy and rugbyed out.

How could I encapsulate that in the last 13 Six Nations games Ireland had only let in 13 tries, while England have haemorrhaged 37. This season Ireland have scored 15 tries to England’s 6. Crucially, against Scotland England turned over the ball on 22 occasions and three Scottish tries came directly from English errors. Currently England are beating themselves.

At 6.35am, after Sinatra had taken our taxi through Autumn in New York and April in Paris, as we hit the ramp leading to Terminal 1, Frank finally got to the point. “Come fly with me.” I decided on another short jab.

“Ireland will beat England because, across all areas of the game, they are playing far more effective rugby.”

He nodded and seemed to accept that truncated truth. As we parted ways he smiled and said: “See, Sinatra has put you in a good mood to face your day. Never too early for Franky.”

As he drove off in search of another set of ears to bend, I had to admit I was not only smiling, I had the great Sinatra singing inside my head.

“Fly me to the moon, let me play upon the stars.” The driver had won. Three-nil