“Football is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans,
Rugby Union is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
Travelling around the world, if you tell anyone you’re a Kiwi, the odds are they’ll go “oooooh, the All Blacks!” Rugby has firmly nestled it’s way into our national psyche. And it’s fantastic. Two teams of 15 incredibly fit blokes running around a field in close-fitting shorts for two halves of 40 minutes of injury time. What more could you ask for?
Kiwis have a rather well-documented obsession with the game involving an egg-shaped ball, hulking blokes kicking and a predilection to cauliflower ears. Invented by the brits, and seized by the colonies a game of rugby is a testosterone fuelled rampage of technically minded barbarism.
I rather sad to admit that I’m no exception to the Kiwi obsession. Growing up in a rugged farming country, Rugby just makes sense. Presumably played during winter as that’s when NZ farmers and labourers needed a way to drive away cabin fever (and whilst the ground was softer for landing on) it sparked a fever that rages uncontrolled, crowned as our national sport.
Our national side, the All Blacks are known internationally for their
barbarism, skill with the ball and the Haka. A Maori war-dance, the Haka is
performed by warriors to their foes before a battle in order to scare the opposition into retreat.
Nowadays it just causes the rugby-loving crowd watching to pull out their mobile phones in glee, but creates an incredible atmosphere.
|All Blacks doing the Haka to a bemused Welsh team a few years ago|
We’re lucky enough to have a friend who scores tickets to most of the matches in England, and kindly invites us (mostly for banter purposes) to join him each time the Kiwis play. I’m never so patriotic (bar on war remembrance days) as when the rugby is on. An immense feeling of national pride, patriotic fervour and several items of black and white clothing sporting our silver fern insignia are always adorned for match days – even the ones sat at home or the pub watching the action.
This year was no exception.
Singing the New Zealand national anthem at the the top of my lungs surrounded by country mates and Englishmen dressed in red & white is one of my proudest moments each year. They are quickly followed by the feeling of pride at the English anthem and goosebumps at the rumbling rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot sung by 60,000+ passionate rugby lovers – there isn’t anything else quite like it.
Unlike football games (for my take on them click here), the atmosphere is electric but doesn’t have the raw crazed fervour of Football (or salty crazy songs) there is a politer shall we say more hunting jacket wearing fan base. Yep, in England rugby is considered more of a upper/middle class sport – if a beautiful try is scored by the opposing team they clap. Where us maraudering Kiwis fit in the whole class thing I’m not really sure, and don’t really care.
Most amusing of all are the pre-game antics. Rugby tickets are notoriously hard to get hold of due to demand, but even harder to get are car park tickets to a particular field near the stadium. Here there are only a certain amounts of car allowed, and all carefully park before opening their boots, unloading tables and picnic baskets brimming with Hors d’Oeuvres and many, many beverages.
This is tail-gating posh style. Invited guests gather around the car boots and proud flag with glasses of bubbles to mingle, network and discuss tactics before moving over to Twickenham Stadium for the game. Coming from more of a working-class background it never ceases to amaze & amuse me no matter how many times we get to enjoy our Saturday rugby lunch al fresco – at home it’s usually just a pie and a pint down your local.
|I wish I’d gotten a better photo than this, but it started seriously raining so the Moet was put away…|
Not long before kick-off the sea of parkas (it’s always cold on rainy) begin to filter their way into the stadium seats. The grey metal structure of Twickenham Stadium itself is rather cold and forbidding, but packed with 85,000 spectators, fireworks displays, rousing choruses and tricky ball manoeuvrings it takes on a life of it’s own.
For a small island nation we certainly punch above our weight – rain hail or shine our boys do the name Kiwi proud on the pitch.
If you ever do get a chance to see a Rugby match, do it, it’s something else. Whether it’s against daffodil wearing Welshmen, green-clad Irishmen, fair dinkum Australians or just a home game the atmosphere is wonderful. Just wear a lot of warm layers and be prepared to walk home if your drivers team loses – it was seriously threatened this year by our English friend.