Watching the Game

After the All Blacks’ defeat at the last Rugby World Cup, I tried to figure it out. I could see that New Zealand was grieving at the loss but it hadn’t given up hope. Now with the RWC being held here and the dream of victory on the cusp of being realised, it feels like rugby is everywhere but I still don’t feel like I fit in with rugby life.

I grew up in a house where sport wasn’t really watched. I could speculate that’s where my lack of interest in the game came from, but yet there was hardly ever any music played in the house and I’ve grown up totally in love with the world of pop. And likewise my brother has overcome this sporting handicap to become a fan of rugby league and union.

The few times I’ve watched rugby on TV, I’ve found it really hard to follow. It seems really complex, all these guys running around in different directions, passing, kicking and then stopping to get into various formations, like aggressive cheerleaders.

I’ve just never had a connection with rugby. Even in 2009 – the year I vowed to go to sports events – it didn’t occur to me to go to a rugby game. Soccer is simple enough, but even the achingly complicated cricket won out over ruggers. Perhaps it’s because of the massive role that rugby plays in New Zealand society. Top-level rugby seems so intense, so extravagant, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Supporting the All Blacks – to the point where you’re ecstatic when they win and inconsolable when they lose – takes emotional committment. You give a bit of yourself to the All Blacks and let them become part of your personal identity. I’m not there. I’m still unconnected, outside the sphere of rugby. If the All Blacks lose the World Cup, I’m not going to go into mourning. But if they win, I won’t have that “WE’RE NUMBER ONE!” feeling of elation.

So the Rugby World Cup happens without me being drawn into it. I’ve only watched one match, a semi-final, and I was paying so little attention that I can’t even remember who was playing. Because I couldn’t follow the game, it was other stuff that grabbed my attention. My mental image of what a rugby game looks like seems to be based on how things were in the 1980s. So I was intrigued that today’s players mostly look really muscular and lean, like they’ve been deliberately visually bulking up their muscles and not carrying extra weight. They’re also a lot less hairy – there seems to be a serious waxing regime going on. It’s all very metrosexual, which I highly approve of.

When the big ol’ New Zealand versus Australia semi-final game was on last weekend, instead I was watching the indie romantic comedy hit “Strictly Sexual“. There are a lot of things that I’m really into right now and those will always win out over watching a rugby game.

So now, in the final hours before the really-big-deal final, I’m still trying to figure this thing out. I’m probably not going to watch the game. I probably won’t know the final score until I see people on Twitter emoting over it. But, you know, I’m not going to complain if the city erupts in jubilation… or implodes with devastation.

Seasonal cheer

It’s OK, mate

I don’t really know much about rugby. I’ve only ever been to one rugby game, which was in 1990, when I wagged my fifth form typing class to see the Hillcrest High first XV play some visiting school. I remember being vaguely impressed by those “line out” things.

17 years later, I haven’t even watched a rugby game on TV. When I see one, it just looks like a bunch of guys running around on a grass field, and sometimes skidding over lines or kicking the ball into places that makes the crowds cheer.

But I’m a New Zealander. I live in New Zealand. And therefore I can’t not be exposed to rugby in some form. It’s everywhere.

And this year I was kind of getting into the Rugby World Cup commentary and discussion over at Public Address’s Some Foreign Field, and enjoyed I the lively podcasts from the lads (and occasional lass) at The Dropkicks and I was thinking that this whole rugby, All Blacks and Rugby World Cup thing might be worth getting into for entertainment purposes.

But, well, I didn’t get around to it, and now the All Blacks, aka “we”, have lost the quarter-final against France and everyone is really really bummed. Or something starting with F that Anton Oliver was bleeped saying on the news tonight.

I understand that the people of Aotearoa are angry with the ref for turning a blind eye to a forward pass and/or the coach for his controversial resting and rotation policy and/or the players for sucking. But despite all the misery (and, oh, there were some miserable people out there on the streets today), people aren’t giving up. They’re not saying, “Oh, we’ll never win the Rugby World Cup!” They’re saying, “Now it’ll be 24 years until we win the cup again!” There’s hope.

The thing is, New Zealand is the one country in the world where rugby union is the be-all, end-all sport. Other countries, like Wales and various Pacific Island nations, do like the egg-ball game, but most countries are hot for football. Only New Zealand has its national identity sewn up so tightly with rugby.

But what I don’t quite understand is why the Rugby World Cup is considered the last word in rugby supremacy. I mean, the Olympics are another quadrennial competition, but we don’t discount the non-Olympic sporting competitions – regional and word championships – that happen in the interim years.

And what happened prior to 1987 when there was no Rugby World Cup? Was there a niggling fear that perhaps, while the All Blacks were quite good, maybe they weren’t actually all that good? Not even!

I reckon if we can love New Zealand, if we be so nationally proud that we call New Zealand Godzone, then surely it’s enough to know in our Aotearoan hearts that the All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world regardless of how they do in any Rugby World Cup competition.

Winning the World Cup should be the icing on the cake, not a definitive statement on how good the All Blacks are.

Oh, cheer up.