By means fair or foul, I managed to inculcate my family with the love of rugby over the years. My appreciation of the game started many years ago. A new teacher at Ridley College started us playing rugby, establishing a sevens side in the first instance. We did well, and from there I progressed to playing for a club side in Canada while at University. We also did well, winning the provincial championships. I still have a certificate from the Premier of Ontario and I went on to play for my hospital in the UK as a medical student.
Rugby in Canada was at an early stage: I vividly remember the time that we introduced one of the major rules in rugby to our referee in the middle of a particularly torrid game against a bunch of steel workers from Hamiton. One of my mates had been reading the rule book and discovered rucking. He was very excited as he explained to us that if you were tackled and did not release the ball it was perfectly all right to try and separate the player from the ball using your feet.
One of my mates had been reading the rule book and discovered the concept of rucking. He was very excited as he explained to us that if you were tackled and did not release the ball it was perfectly all right to try and separate the player from the ball using your feet.
During the game, one of the opposition players (a steelworker somewhat resembling the girders he produced) went down and cradled the ball like it was his newborn child. We enthusiastically started kicking the shit out of him to get him to release the ball. He was outraged by this ungentlemanly behaviour and bounced up, fists ready.
Many Canadians play hockey and it is customary to have a good fight or two during the game. In my day this was called a ‘Donnybrook’ and involved all of the players throwing off their gloves and having a good fistfight. So, we all prepared for a bit of serious handbag throwing as he enquired why we had (expletive deleted) been kicking him while he was on the ground. When we explained that this was allowed by the rules, everyone lowered their fists and turned as one to the referee. You have to remember that this was 40 years ago in Canada and refereeing was also in its infancy. The referee scrabbled through the rulebook and announced that, yes, it was legal. Apologies were accepted, and shakes were given
You have to remember that this was 40 years ago in Canada and refereeing was also in its infancy. The referee scrabbled through the rulebook and announced that, yes, it was legal. Apologies were accepted, and the game went on, anyone unwise enough not to release the ball being enthusiasicallykicked off it.
Apologies were accepted, and rucking entered the game in Canada. The game was hard, brutal stuff, played on rock hard pitches in the hot Canadian summers (playing in the winter in Canada is obviously impractical). We would happily drive a hundred miles to play a game: the trip back could be more dangerous than the game, as we stopped at hostelries to celebrate or commiserate after the games. Drink driving having been yet to be invented. Good times.
Later I played in the Hospitals Cup in the UK. The Hospital’s Cup competition is perhaps the oldest rugby competition in the world and – although not the first class sporting event of years past – was fiercely contested.
In later years, I did my penance by spending cold Sundays on the side of the pitch watching my little boys run around. But it all bore fruit, as we all enjoy watching the game now. And periodically very large mates of the boy’s visit. Ellesmere College, where the boys went, is a ‘rugby academy’ and several of their old teammates are playing representative rugby at club or international level. Hence the large mates.
We had bought tickets for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand well before we had decided to move here. By the time of the competition, I was already in New Zealand, but my wife and one of our boys arrived the day before it started. Their luggage was lost and they arrived in Dunedin wearing summer clothes in October. Re-equipping them provided us with our first experience of how genuinely nice Kiwis are.
We wanted to watch the opening ceremony on television. We asked in the shop where we were reequipping with clothes suitable to Dunedin if this was possible and were promptly swept out of the door and into the local pub where we were placed in the best seats in the house. About 200 people had crowded into a large room to watch it on the big screen. It was a tremendous atmosphere: when the New Zealand national anthem was sung the entire room – mainly young students – stood and belted it out with passion. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end: It was beautiful.
We watched our first game (England versus Argentina) and then enjoyed the post-match camaraderie, all the more surprising given the recent history between the UK and Argentina. We subsequently watched other games up and down the country. Palmerston North hosted a couple of games, including Argentina versus Georgia. We were encouraged to dress up to support the teams. On the day, the stadium was a sea of both Argentinian and Georgian supporters. It felt like there were probably more rugby supporters wearing Georgian colours in the stadium than are in Georgia.
I went to Napier to watch Canada versus France, played in what could only be described as an antediluvian deluge. Nevertheless, it did not diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd.
We ended up going to the final in Auckland (after all you only live once and I can resist almost anything except temptation), which was nail-biting stuff.
I don’t feel that New Zealand gave itself enough credit for the World Cup. It’s a small country, with a population of about 4.5 million, but it felt as if the slogans had come to life and it really was a nation of four million rugby fans. Wherever you went, you could have an involved and technical conversation on the merits of the game. But most of all, everyone seemed to be greeted with open arms. I asked a number of visitors who I met what they thought (in my ‘Pommie’ accent). It was with quiet pleasure that I can report that they were universally impressed by New Zealand, as I have been since moving here.