Rugby’s not for this girl?… or is it?

2013-11-13 00:00

SO there I was sitting in a dingy pub surrounded by men watching rugby, which I don’t really care about, even if it is the Sharks playing in the Currie Cup final.

My husband laments my lack of interest and often recalls our varsity days when I would read a book in a smoke-filled room full of students yelling at the television. So, you ask, what was I doing there? Well, apart from wanting to enjoy a few glasses of wine, I didn’t really want to stay at home with the children on a Saturday night, so I tagged along.

Of course, the men eschewed the girly, pretty, sweet-smelling pub next door, choosing instead the sparsely furnished, beer-smelling, windowless pub because it’s more manly and, of course, has the all-important big screen. Wine in hand, I perched on my bar stool and looked around me. What I saw was a crowd of about 50 people, all men, except for about five women, one of whom was me. Their ages started at somewhere in the 60s all the way down to about 18. Young, old, fat, thin, hairy, not so hairy, they all had two things in common — black and white Sharks attire and loud voices. From the first shrill whistle, the room was a cacophony of shouting, exaggerated arm movements, and yelling all manner of instructions and insults at the poor referee, who, once again, could do no right. Of course, the best moments were when, ball in hand, a player in black and white made a dash for the try line. Everyone leapt to their feet, cheering him on at the tops of their voices, shouting “Go boy, go boy”, at a 1,95-metre, 120-kilogram brute of a man, pounding down the touch line. This was followed either by the collective “Aaaaaaa” when he did not make his destination, or hysterical celebration and a plethora of high-fiving when he managed to fall over the line. If you watched each spectator in turn, you could see the agony and ecstasy in equal measure flit across his face. In despair, they flung their arms in the air, shouting: “Come on ref, off sides!” Or they buried their heads in their hands, bemoaning a missed kick or a forward pass or, heaven forbid, points scored by the other side, which is taken as a personal affront.

While the score is neither here nor there for me, I cringe at the bone-crushing tackles, the pile-ups and the collapsed scrums. I constantly wonder, out loud, to my husband’s annoyance, how it can possibly be enjoyable to be jumped on, thrown to the ground, have your face ground into the dirt, and buried under a seething mass of flailing arms and legs, and where the possibility of bleeding, needing stitches, breaking a bone or being stretchered off the field is very high. While I would never have forbidden my son from playing rugby (not that the school would allow that), I’m grateful that he chose to play hockey instead. I wonder if I would have been able to stand on the sideline as he got bruised and battered in an effort to get an oddly shaped ball over a line, while 15 players from the opposition team chased him with murderous intentions.

Of course, none of this is new to me. I grew up in a rugby-mad household with brothers and a father who all played the game. Then I married an equally rugby-mad man and met all his rugby-mad friends. During matches, be it the Sharks or the Springboks, I’m quite used to the television being a source of pain and frustration or joy and jubilation, with every tackle, dive, side-step and scrum eliciting extreme reactions. The very best thing about rugby is that most of the time, it is used as an excuse to get together with friends for some supper and hopefully, a bit of a party.

I must confess though, that the few times I’ve been to King’s Park over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. The last time I went, I had to be persuaded by my husband and friends, and promised dinner on Florida Road. The reason I balked was that it was two games, one after the other. I couldn’t see myself sitting through two games without irritating my husband by continuously saying: “I’m bored”. My suggestion of taking a book was met with a withering look. So off I went, and what an experience it was. The first game was spent chatting, watching the crowd and trying to enjoy box wine out of a plastic cup. I don’t know who played, what the score was or who won. The Springboks came on for the second game; I don’t know who their opponents were, what the score was or who won, but I sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika at the top of my voice, while trying not to cry; I shouted and roared with the capacity crowd when a Springbok scored a try; and I really enjoyed my dinner on Florida Road.

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