If you know me, you know I’m not into sports. I don’t know when the seasons start, I’m still not quite sure what Fifa is, and I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. But coming to New Zealand, I knew I had to make it to at least one rugby match, and when I heard about a game for Auckland’s home team, the Blues, I jumped at the chance to go. But even after sitting through an eighty minute game, I’m still not exactly sure how the rules work.
My roommate Nicole and I arrived at Eden Park, NZ’s largest stadium, around 3:45 pm, just in time for the pre-kickoff entertainment. We had trouble finding our way to the shuttle stop downtown but after seeing a father and young son decked out in Blues gear, we casually followed them all the way to the entrance where we asked for directions to general admissions seating.
Since “pre-kickoff entertainment” is oddly vague, I didn’t know what to expect before the game, but I was pleasantly surprised. We got to witness the Little Blues Rugby Tournament, a set of two mini rugby games played by youth teams of under nine-year-olds. Instead of using the whole field, they divided it in half and ran parallel to the in-goals (that’s the rugby equivalent of the endzone). The Tournament concluded with the youth lining the tunnel and welcoming the Blues players onto the field when it was time for kick-off. Even from more than fifty yards away, I could tell that made those boys’ day.
Since rugby is to NZ what football is to the US, I figured this stadium would be packed. When we arrived and it was nearly empty, I figured it was because real fans only showed up for the actual game. But when the stands were still far from full ten minutes after kick-off, we realized no one else was showing up. Apparently, the Blues aren’t the best players out there so their games are usually low in attendance. And even though they lost to the Rebels at a final score of 10 vs 20, it wasn’t for lack of trying!
Before watching the game, I knew exactly three things about rugby. One: there’s no padding, two: when a player scores, it’s called a “try”, and three: players can’t pass the ball forwards. While this was definitely not enough information to fully understand what was going on, thanks to some overheard conversations and some quick Googling, I was able to understand most of what went on. Like football, there’s still a fair amount of standing around and quick starts and stops but for those who like bursts of heavy action, rugby is the way to go.
The game picked up right from the start and I familiar with a bunch of rugby moves for the first time. The players formed a scrum almost right at the beginning, which is basically like an aggressive group hug. The players line up across from each other, lock arms, and once the ball is released, use their feet to kick it around to their side. Line-outs are also super fun and look straight out of Bring It On. When the ball is being thrown back into play after going out of bounds, the teams tosses a player or two into the air to catch it. And although a tackle is a tackle, seeing a domino effect as the ball gets tossed down the line was certainly new, as well as realizing that cracking sound I kept hearing wasn’t their helmets clashing–it was their skulls.
I’ve now seen a total of two rugby games in my life and I have to say, the sport is growing on me. I can’t safely say my opinion is unbiased from having the best memories in NZ and not wanting to spoil anything, but I did have a lot of fun watching them with my friends. Am I completely converted sports fan after seeing one game? No. But will I go to another game if I get the chance? Definitely.
Charlotte Williams studies professional writing and psychology. She is a tutor at the Writing Center, a writer and editor for the Center for Publishing, and an editor for Champlain’s literary magazine Willard & Maple.
APPLY NOW FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE WITH CHAMPLAIN ABROAD!