Years of arena seating, channel changing, and couch spectating - down the drain. All these years, I thought I knew what it meant to be an athlete. It took only one night of rugby to prove every sport expectation I have as pathetic.
This past Friday evening I attended my first mens rugby match. Within moments of entering Eden Park (New Zealand's largest stadium, and host of the 2o11 Rugby World cup), I knew I was in for it. The Blues (Auckland's Super Rugby team) were scheduled to play the Stormers (South Africa). Now, for those of you who know as much about the New Zealand population as I did before I arrived to the country in May... this is a big deal. Believe it or not, many South Africans (or, and New Zealanders would call them, "S-afers") reside in the Auckland area. With that being said, all hooligans were in attendance. Languages of all sorts were thrown around the stadium throughout the night. But it wasn't the conversation that kept my attention for the two 40 minute halves - it was the game.
The game of rugby is like nothing I've ever seen before. It's a mix between football, soccer, hockey, and hot potato. If the ball (which seems to be a unsuccessful product of combining the shape of a football with the material and size of a soccer ball) isn't being thrown (only backwards, by the way), it's being rolled. Or dropped. Or kicked. Or dropped and kicked at the same time.
Any pause in the game seems to be resumed by either an Ali-oop, group huddle, or free range kicking. Either a man is being lofted upward by two team mates to catch and pass on a ball mid-air, two teams compete in a "scrum" for the ball when it is rolled into the middle of their circular huddle, or a kicker attempts (what American football fans would consider) outrageous kicks from any given point within close proximity of the goal post.
This new favorite spectating sport of mine has eliminated any sympathy I have for complaining athletes (especially those European futbol players...). The rugby players (who wear no shin guards or shoulder pads) tolerate everything an anything. Jersey are pulled. Dog piles are formed. Injuries (including head wounds) are bandaged on the field before the continuation of play. And blood is ignored. They waste no time.