Rugby is a great spectator sport so long as you learn the basics of the rules from someone who has played it. If your only experience is from watching an occasional game on ESPN, it seems like barely organized chaos. The players don’t hide behind helmets, shoulder pads or any other padding, so when you hear a thwunk from the field, you know it has to hurt. And they play 80 minutes of solid running, with no time outs for Budweiser ads.
For a whole season, local teams in many of the countries of the British Commonwealth play hotly contested matches. There are the Reds, the Blacks, the Blue Bulls, and of course the (Durban) Sharks. The best players from each South African team are invited to don the jersey of the national team, the Springboks. It was the Springboks’ victory at the Rugby World Cup was central to the film “Invictus,”
The Boks returned to Durban on Saturday to play Italy last Saturday. It was a double header, with an opening game between Scotland and Samoa, and a large crowd was expected. Either because of the high ticket prices (R450 or US$45) or the fact that there was a new ban on bringing your own booze into the stadium, only 30,000 of the 50,000 seats in the Kings’ Park stadium were filled.
Nonetheless, it was a spectacle, and one I won’t soon forget. The opening was complete with fireworks and a Zulu warrior who danced around with a huge spear and spouting fireworks from his shield, and the singing of the SA national anthem (in five languages). The cheers of the crowd helped me figure out which plays worked and which didn’t. And they greeted each play by Tendai Mtawarira, a huge player affectionately known as The Beast with growls of “Beast!’ “Beast!” (Becky met him at a church function, and said that he enjoyed talking to her about something other than rugby). They cheered every kick by the local-player-made-good, the photogenic Patrick Lambie. And every try (score) was serenaded by two Scottish bagpipe players who didn’t have much of a chance to play during their game (Scotland lost).
The final score was pretty much as predicted; the Boks crushed the Italians 44-10. Tim and I went for a(nother) beer and something to eat at a rugby club just outside the stadium; he had a hamburger and I ordered a bunny. (more about the bunny here). I got the better part of the deal; the R25 (US$2.50) bunny was more than I could eat. Note the last picture: if you have too much fun at the game, GoodFellas is ready to give you a taxi ride home.