If rugby is a religion, then I’m praying to the wrong god.

June 3, 2011

It’s funny the things that remind you of home after you move to another country.

Seeing k.d. lang on an English talk show, for instance. Viking Woman was a big fan of lang during the formative years of her career, to the point of following the singer and her band around the bars of southern Alberta. Those were the days when lang wore a wedding dress and cowboy boots while performing in nearly every Legion hall in the province.

Seeing NHL jerseys in incongruous places is always cause for a double take from an expat. The other day, I spotted a middle-aged Maori woman in a supermarket wearing the Atlanta Thrashers’ third jersey. I very nearly tapped her on the shoulder to tell her the sweater was now a collectible, what with the Thrashers in the process of packing up and moving north to Winnipeg.

I always find it sad when NHL franchises move. It’s like acknowledging failure and that somehow hurts my pride in the game.

Hockey has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Back to the days of black-and-white TV when you could see any team play at home on Hockey Night in Canada, just as long as it was Montreal or Toronto.

I was an expansion-era baby, one who chuckled at my father grumbling at how expanding from six to 12 teams would dilute the product and how on earth could he be expected to keep track of all those players. Now, of course, there are 30 teams and some 700 players and I’m the one doing the grumbling.

We had two religious experiences every weekend when I was growing up. Saturday, 5 p.m., was the weekly hockey game. Sunday, 9 a.m., was the weekly Catholic Mass. Lulled into boredom by having to spend an hour cooped up in a church in my best clothes, I would lapse into daydreams, ones in which I replayed every highlight from the night before, often imagining myself as one of the goalies, plucking pucks out of midair. Jesus wasn’t the only one saving on those mornings.

So how does a hockey fanatic end up in New Zealand, a country where “hockey” means field hockey and you have to say “ice hockey” to make yourself understood? Long story. Let’s just say I’ve had to rely on the Internet for my puck fix for several years now. To the point that, during my annual visit home, to actually sit and watch a game on TV is like discovering the sport all over again.

It’s like finding a treasured toy from one’s childhood. I can’t help but stare in wonder. And smile. A lot.

* * *

Rugby is the king of New Zealand sports, of course. All Blacks all the time, as it were.

New Zealand is playing host the Rugby World Cup 2011, which, apparently, is the equivalent of hosting the Stanley Cup final, the Super Bowl and the World Series. All at the same time.

This is how gaga this country is for the sport they call affectionately call footy: there was a big celebration earlier this week to mark the fact the competition would be kicking  off 100 days hence. Yup, three-and-a-months until the first ball is booted in anger, and grown men were putting on black tie and patting each others’ bums in eager anticipation of seeing the All Blacks mop the floor with all comers.

I’m not a big fan of rugby – big men in tight shorts scare me for some reason – but I am a big fan of my home country. Yes, Canada has a national rugby team. I have no idea who the players are but, after seeing how Canada’s national cricket team appeared to have been recruited from Pakistan, it wouldn’t surprise me if the roster was filled with players who said “say wot, old chap” as opposed to “ya hoser, eh.”

Two of Canada’s games are being played in Napier and Viking Woman and I are going to attend the match against Japan. Nether of those teams is exactly considered a powerhouse in the sport, so it might be the equivalent of watching a Midget-level hockey game as opposed to the NHL.

But we have our Vancouver Winter Olympics hoodies (not that we’ll need them in September) emblazoned with Canada across the chest, our red Vancouver Winter Olympics mittens (not that we’ll need them in September), our red Canada hats and our red-and-white Canadian flags. We plan to be very, very vocal in support of our fellow Canucks.

And, since streaking is somehow an integral part of rugby (yes, this country is still stuck in the ’70s. Why do you ask?), I may even venture onto the field should I be so consumed by national pride in all things True North Strong and Free to the point of casting aside both my inhibitions and my clothes.

Anyone know where I can get an XXL maple leaf?

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One Response to “If rugby is a religion, then I’m praying to the wrong god.”

  1. dazza said

    very good read john-made me have a good laugh.

    Would look good in the mag?

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