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

Black, gold

I have a new cellphone. It is one of those newfangled cellphones that has an extra piece of string or a special carrier pigeon that connects it to the interwebs (I do not understand modern technology). Vodafone now has some decent pricing plans for cellphone interwebs, so I have no excuse not to use it. But this has been both a bonus and a burden.

For example, if I’m walking down Courtenay Place and I think, “Wot was that line from Clue that Mrs White says about the flames?”, I can just whip out my phone and google it and quickly find the answer.

However, it also means that having the net at my fingertips sucks me out of the now and focuses my attention on the little black rectangle in my hand. It’s like the monolith from “2001”, but instead of evolving me to a new plane of enlightenment, it tells me trivia facts about Romania (Romania’s parliament building is the largest building in Europe!)

I was thinking about how cellphones are used these days. I rarely use mine for voice calls any more. In fact, my cellphone rang for a first time a few days ago and I didn’t know which button to press to answer it so I missed the call. Oh, such a modern dilemma!

But I would like to note that when my cellphone rings,it rings.


I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Isn’t it awesome that the Wellington Lions won the Ranfurly Shield after a 26-year dry spell, mate!” Well, um, prior to a couple of days ago, I didn’t even know that there was a sports team called the Wellington Lions.

So with this in mind, I have wisely left the commentary on this topic to my mum, who filed this report from Wellington airport, the day after the win:

We got to the airport quite early and had just settled down to wait for the plane when there was an announcement, “I am proud to announce that the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland will be arriving shortly.” (Proud, I thought, that’s a bit odd)

Then there was a lot of yahoo-ing and yelling from a group of middle-aged Koru Club ladies up the other end of the room who were watching the plane come in. Of course the plane had the victorious Lions on board.

On the tarmac there were two fire trucks in position and when the plane taxied to the terminal it was generously sprayed with water, most of which was blown the other way anyway. Also there were a lot of workers in yellow vests on the tarmac waving flags and yellow and black scarves. Oh, how I wished I’d kept my old school scarf!

We didn’t go down to join in the rabble. We heard some kids doing a haka and there was a lot of cheering and clapping. The Koro Club ladies (and their cellphone cameras) had disappeared to join in the fun. It was all on the TV news last night, anyway.

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.

I started something

Over on PA System there was a discussion about the Rugby World Cup. There was mention that Justin Marshall felt that New Zealand rugby players weren’t showered with the same adulation that rugby players in England apparently are.

I commented, which was hilarious because I don’t actually know anything about rugby:

People haven’t moved into full-on “Justin is awesome!!!” hero worship yet because a) he’s still young and still playing, and b) he’s moved away from New Zealand so he’s not here any more.

In other words, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

Observant readers will notice that “You just haven’t earned it yet, baby” is also the name of a Smiths song. This was also noted on PA System, and triggered an avalanche of rugby-related Smiths song title rugby comments, which I will list here for posterity.

  • LegBreak: Keeping with the Smiths theme, perhaps last night Meg dreamt that someone loved him. Just another false alarm.
  • Che: well, this charming man will certainly be hoping to see los puma’s maul the french. strange days, here we come.
  • LegBreak: Che, You think the French might’ve started something they just couldn’t finish? That would paint a vulgar picture.
  • Che: leg, i know this conversation started as bigmouth striking again, but the world won’t listen to anything less than the pumas winning. and as for robyn starting this meme, sheila, take a bow.
  • kowhai: Oh Justin, we still love you, only slighty less that we used to…..
  • Russell: I guess Justin is just nostalgic for the days when he was the boy with the Thorne in his side…
  • Paul: It’s a stretch but on the day of the final, A Rush & A Push & the Land (Cup) Is Ours (enough of the Smiths, pleeeese!)
  • LegBreak: Stop me if You’ve Heard this one before, Justin’s just trying to ensure that his Light Never Goes Out.
  • Merc: It’s all a miserable lie and heaven knows he’s miserable now.
  • LegBreak: Oh MsGallagher, so much to answer for…
  • Joanna: You’re not the one for me, Rugby
    You’re not the one I really, really love…
  • Richard: Causing Meg to oscillate wildly …..
  • Danielle: I think I might be the sporting equivalent of Morrissey at his most morose. I am horribly worried about NZ teams in high pressure situations, and usually expect the worst. Yet I force myself to watch everything, in a frenzy of worry punctuated by moments of sheer terror and very occasional joy. It’s all quite stressful. Call me morbid, call me pale.
  • merc: People said you were easily led,
    were they half right?
  • LegBreak: One thing that concerns me is Graham Henry, and the headmaster ritual.
    He says its gonna happen now, When exactly does he mean? see we’ve already waited too long

This is probably the only Rugby World Cup related thing I’ll write. Heaven knows I’m, etc.


Someone posted this in a local newsgroup:

If only I was one of those many Kiwi’s in the crowd at todays game! Good on ya “All Blacks”! Making us proud once again! And not to mention our “Lomu”!!!! Making once again – a superb try! The strength in that guy is amazing! Hell, I am on cloud nine right now! Its 6.30am – but to hell with it – I’m gonna celebrate with a beer!!!

Reading between the excess quote marks and exclamation marks, what the poster was pissing their pants with joy about is that the New Zealand rugby team beat the English rugby team in a match.

This is apparently a big deal. So much so that people are meant to be very excited about it and say things like “Mate, did you see the rugby! We totally kicked England’s arse!” to which one is to respond, “Maate!”

Ok cool, but don’t drag me into it.

I tried to like rugby. For about a week I put in a concentrated effort and attempted to be a rugby fan. I watched the beginning of a game, y’know, all the pre-match stuff where they had interviews with the team members (disturbingly enough all wearing the same shirt). Then the game started and I found myself looking at a bunch of guys running around on a field of grass.

That’s the thing, when I look at a game of rugby, it has no form or structure for me. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s some guys and a ball. Sometimes they kick it, sometimes they pass it and other times they run with it. Sometimes they do something and the crowd gets very excited and cheers.

I was at the supermarket a while ago and the checkout girl said, “What did you think of the rugby last night?” Having no idea to what she was referring, I said “I don’t watch rugby.” She looked at me like I had just said that to avoid conversation.

The New Zealand Rugby Union had a thing called “Blackout Day” where everyone was encouraged to wear black in support. All these goths started complaining about Blackout day. “We wear black all the time,” they said. “People will think we support rugby.” Oh they bloody well will not.

Yes, rugby supporters wear black clothes, but not black mesh tops with black PVC pants, not Bauhaus t-shirts. And yes, rugby supporters have been known to paint their faces, but not all white and not with eye liner and black lipstick.

Despite what goths might like to think, there’s pretty much no chance of one being mistaken for a rugbyhead. I was going to suggest that goths should stop complaining, but that’s never going to happen.

I could get all worked up over rugby and those rabid supporters of the sport who would go so far as to call someone like me unpatriotic, but I will decline from doing so.

Instead, I shall politely refrain from participating in the culture of rugby. When someone says, “Did you see the rugby on the weekend?” I shall reply, “No, maaaate.”