If I don’t understand rugby is it because I’m sober?

October 22, 2009

Rugby, eh? Five years living in New Zealand and I still don’t see the point. You have to throw the ball back to move it ahead? That’s the story of my life these days so why would I want to spend time watching that?

But someone gave us a pair of tickets to a Hawke’s Bay Magpies game the other night and so Viking Woman and I headed off to Napier’s McLean Park.

There are thousands of covered seats in McLean Park. We did not sit in any of them. Our tickets to the Hawke’s Bay vs Canterbury match were designated “Ground Entry Only,” which meant we had to join several hundred fans standing or sitting on a grassy knoll at one end of the playing field.

Two reasons to just say no to these tickets in the future: the stadium’s lone scoreboard was located immediately behind us, meaning we had to twist right around anytime we wanted to see the score and/or time clock; and, no matter who had the ball, or which half it was, all the action happened at the other end of the field.

With little hope of actually following the game from our vantage point, we opted to simply enjoy a warm spring evening and observe the setting and our fellow attendees. In retrospect, that was probably more interesting than the action on the pitch.

While Viking Woman’s bag was checked for glass when we arrived, there is obviously no ban on alcohol.

I was amazed, after the millions spent on TV ads condemning the evils of the devil’s brew, how much booze was being consumed during the game. We’re not talking about the odd container peeking surreptitiously out of a hoodie pocket, but rather people openly carrying full boxes of beer cans. Now that is some serious drinking, folks.

And this at what was obviously considered a family outing, judging by the number of children in attendance. But the younger kids, at least where we were positioned in the cheap “seats,” seemed content to chase each other around, while teenagers did little more than prowl the common areas under the stands, looking to see and be seen.

Between the drinking and the carousing and the cruising, I’m not sure if anyone was actually paying attention to the game. Too bad, because I could have used someone to explain the finer points of rugby.

Left to my own devices, here are my thoughts:

Unlike football (or American gridiron, as it’s known here), where full and complete possession is the rule, you can score a try in rugby by simply sneezing your DNA onto a grounded ball in the end zone. That hardly seems fair or, when it comes right down to it, very difficult.

That whole scrum thing doesn’t work for me either. A group of bullet-headed behemoths bash into each other, crushing noses and ears in the process, while a skinny-ass guy from one team flips the ball into the midst of this churning mass, runs around the back, and retrieves the ball. Every single time.

Call me crazy (or naïve, or uninformed, or an ignorant, bloody foreigner) but I can’t help asking the obvious question here: Why? If you’re going to get the ball right back, why not just hang onto the bloody thing and save all that heaving and crashing and damaged cartilage.

(“I love the rucks,” interjects Viking Woman. “Because, while all the guys are bending over in their shorts, I can look at their bums.” OK, well now it all makes perfect sense.)

I’m also not sure of the integrity of a sport where the PA announcer is permitted to lead the cheers. Although, as Kiwis tend to be a reticent bunch, he was usually the only one making any noise. I also question the grammatical logic of the popular hometown chant “Go the Bay.” Short and punchy? OK, I’ll give you that one. Proper English? I’m going to say no.

While the organized cheering tended to be subdued, the local rugby fans proved rather fond of The Wave. Or what they still like to call The Mexican Wave. And, yes, somewhere Krazy George is silently weeping.

Having witnessed this spectacle at every single hockey game I’ve ever attended, I am now rather jaded by the sight. But trust Kiwis to add a new twist to an old cheer. Or at least those Kiwis packed onto the grassy knoll with us.

Whenever it came time for our section to throw our hands in the air, those hands were also filled with crushed beer cans and other rubbish, all simultaneously flung high as the wave crashed over us. It was like being caught in a downpour of aluminum and I could only pray the flying cans weren’t still full. A ticket stub is a good souvenir. Concussion, not so much.

In the end, we didn’t stay until the end. The attendance was something like 14,000 and we didn’t want to have to deal with 13,000 drunks simultaneously released to drive home. We ducked out with 12 minutes to play and thus managed to avoid any possible traffic mayhem.

The final score? Canterbury won, but not before a controversial call in injury time resulted in a Hawke’s Bay try being waved off. Guess the player didn’t sneeze hard enough.


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One Response to “If I don’t understand rugby is it because I’m sober?”

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