Monday, June 14, 2010
Never having been to live rugby game before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’m quite familiar with the sport itself, and I know the basic rules of the game having watched numerous games on TV over the years. But, as anyone reading this is well aware, you don’t really know a sport until you experience it live. And what an experience it turned out to be.
Somehow, I found myself in the first row of the terraces in the south-east corner of the storied Newlands rugby ground. It was a familiar vantage point, almost as if I was standing in section 113 at BMO Field. I must be cosmically drawn to that area of a stadium, I guess.
From so close, it was easy to get caught up in the overwhelming power of not only the giants immediately in front of me, but also the knowledgeable, enthusiastic crowd.
Where soccer is the beautiful game, a sport of finesse and precision, rugby is pretty much the exact opposite. It is a game of power, something a spectator cannot fully appreciate until he witnesses it right before his eyes.
The Springboks, South Africa’s storied international side (and, as told in the movie Invictus, the first of the country’s sporting institutions to be used as a unifying force for a nation that was in dire need of one), took on their counterparts from France. The Boks are one of the three major sporting passions here, with Bafana Bafana and the nation’s cricket side, the Proteas, being the others. South Africa is the current Rugby World Cup holders, and have in fact won two of the four RWC tournaments they’ve competed in since being reinstated following the fall of Apartheid in the early 90′s. In other words, South Africa is very, very good at this sport, and the Springboks are rightly very, very popular here.
It seemed no coincidence that the French – also a past RWC winner – were invited to play a match in Cape Town less than 24 hours after their football team opened its FIFA World Cup campaign a few miles down the road. Like their soccer brethren, the French rugby side were very poor and out-of-sorts, allowing the Springboks to score two tries within the first 10 minutes of the game. From there on out, it was academical, as the green-clad Boks put on a rugby clinic for the adoring crowd.
When the final whistle sounded, South Africa had romped to a 42-17 scoreline, one that actually flattered the losing side. I had to feel bad for the thousands of French supporters in attendance, many sporting their nation’s soccer jerseys, as they made their way thousands of kilometres to Cape Town for a rare soccer/rugby doubleheader, only to watch their teams both perform so terribly.
For me, the game was a learning experience, and I left the stadium with a new appreciation for the speed and strength that the world’s top rugby players possess. I also It’s something I’d definitely do again if given the opportunity.
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Not only do the sports themselves offer a great cointrast, but so too do the respctive sporting cultures. While the world debates the merits of the Vuvuzela, this World Cup’s contribution to soccer supporters culture, the rugby side of the debate here has already decided, and the silence is deafening:
That’s right, vuvuzelas are explicitly banned at international rugby matches here, and this rule is strictly enforced. The few hardy souls who decided to test the rule under the shroud of World Cup tolerance were rebuffed at the gates. Natural crowd noise – songs, chanting, the roar of approval and boo of dismay – is alive and well on rugby’s biggest stage, and after watching countless soccer games with relentless droning in the background, it really is a relief to the aural senses.
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Posted by Rudi Schuller