Springboks Supreme

I watched the finals of the Rugby World Cup this afternoon, and was disappointed to see South Africa’s Springboks knock off England 15-6, esp. after a British try that got overturned by the blind video-judge. Considering South Africa blanked England 36-0 earlier in the tournament, I guess this loss could be considered a little more palatable, particularly since England got to defeat France to get to this point.

I’m not sure why I was rooting against South Africa. Maybe it was an apartheid hangover, maybe it was because they tried to kill Joe Pesci in that Lethal Weapon movie. Or maybe it was the Aryan weirdness and unmoving hair of Percy Montgomery.

Amy & I never did get around to figuring out all the rules, but the games we watched here and in Milan were pretty entertaining. As a contrast, I also got to attend the Jets/Giants game a few Sundays ago, and that got me to thinking about the rugby vs. U.S. football debate. (Here’s a slideshow from that game, tickets courtesy of my buddy Jon-Eric.)

When I was in New Zealand in 2003, some of the antipodeans goofed on me because NFL players wear pads, while rugby players are, um, unprotected (and adventuresome!). I pointed out that NFL linemen are probably 6-10 inches taller than rugby players, a hundred lbs. heavier, and only a step or so slower. Or, as official VM buddy Tom Spurgeon put it, “Would your rather crash full speed into a wall on your bicycle or in a car?”

Anyway, having watched a few matches, I can see that top rugby players are in better shape than NFL players, since there’s really no break in the action (I think halftime is only 10 minutes long), very few substitutions, and lots of ugly hits that these guys keep managing to get up from.

For me, that was a big factor that made rugby fun to watch: no one takes a dive. One guy went down during this match, and the medico ran over to treat him while the game kept going on. There’s none of the flopping that characterizes soccer (and now the NBA), none of the “I’ll never walk again” writhing that ends 15 seconds later with the player getting up and running downfield.

Of course, most of the rugby players also have cauliflower ears, swollen brows, and cognitive impairment, but I’m pretty sure that last one was what led them into rugby to begin with.

* * *

Virtual Memories bonus! When I visited New Zealand (see enormous slideshow), my flight into Auckland landed the morning after the finals of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The pilot spent a good five minutes describing the action from the game, in which England beat Australia in overtime. After 12 hours in the air (this followed a 6-hour flight from EWR to LAX), I wasn’t exactly in the mood for the George Michael Sports Machine, but he made it entertaining while we taxi’d to the gate.

Days later, on a Saturday morning, we cruised along in our tour bus. I watched the countryside and small towns roll by, and then I saw something that I never bothered to share with anyone. In the front yard of a house, at 8 o’clock in the morning, a kid (he had to be under 10) was marching back and forth carrying a large sign that read, “POMMY RUGBY IS BORING!”

I can only assume the kid lost a bet on the finals.

2 Replies to “Springboks Supreme”

  1. Interestingly, they’re playing an NFL game here in London this weekend and it’s been getting pretty good press coverage. I like this quote:

    “We can’t win in America,” defensive end Jason Taylor said. “Maybe we can win overseas.”

  2. Rugby is a big deal in Istanbul. A lot of Brit, Scot, Irish ex-pats who even have a league over there. So you often see 40-year-old men with their legs in casts hobbling around with a mug of beer in their hands.

    I haven’t figured out all the rules either.


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