Friday, September 09, 2011

My First Rugby Game

Last night I was channel surfing when I came across the opening ceremonies for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, in Auckland New Zealand. It was a grand spectacle, lights, music, dance, incorporating aboriginal moves with classical and modern.

After the grand fireworks display ended, the first rugby game began. I had never seen this game played so thought I would watch. I had the impression that it was like football, a game whose intricate principles I have never understood. Well, I know what a touchdown is, but because I don't get it, I am bored.

The teams from New Zealand and Tonga marched onto the field and formed a long line. The national anthems played, and it was a lovely display of patriotism for each country. They regrouped, team glaring at team. Then, with the unison of a well-rehearsed chorus line, the Tonga team huffed and puffed, made belligerent hand gestures, and shouted out what must be their team song, their voices harsh, faces mean.

New Zealand's turn. Oh yes, these men were also skillfully choreographed and showed equal fist-pumping anger. I watched in astonishment. Was this an ancient male prewar ritual? These teams were ready to do battle.

I was reminded of a nature show I recently watched where two handsome male birds fluffed their feathers and strutted about, baiting each other, cawing, their goal to impress the female bird who stood coyly waiting. They menaced and charged toward each other until one backed out of the game.

Instead of a coy female, the prize here was – The Ball.

The game began in earnest. Wow, those goal posts stood close together. This ought to be interesting, I thought. And it was. Rugby players do not wear the humongous padding that our football players wear. [Why? Is our football so much more dangerous? How can I now not think of these well padded footballers as, well, sissies?]

This is impressive. Everyone piles on the player who has the ball. That may be the same as our football, but there it seems the similarity ends. There are no whistles, no interminable stopping of the clock, no advancing two yards or two inches, or whatever. Someone wriggles the ball out of the pile and runs with it, dodges the opposing team, then throws it to a teammate, who throws it to another, and so on until there is another pileup.

I could understand what these people were doing. The trick was to form a line and not let the opponent get through to the goal. [We played a kiddie version of this in grade school, without the ferocity, without the pileups.]

All in all I found it a fast-moving game, with players constantly moving about, passing the ball, or jumping into a big pile on the one who has it. I didn't watch the entire game, but I hear New Zealand won 41-10. This may have been the first and last rugby game I watch, but I'm interested enough to keep up with the results.

And I have to say, I'm impressed.

-– Cat