Monday, October 8, 2007
Rugby: What is it, and is it contagious?
Those of you back in the Old Country are probably unaware of the Rugbymania that has consumed France for the past several weeks. After losing out on the Olympics, and crashing and burning during the last soccer world cup, France is putting its all behind the Rugby World Cup, which it is currently hosting. People who before would never deign to mingle with the rugby crowd, like President Nicolas Sarkozy, are suddenly showing up at games and cheering at all the right moments. Rugby players, most of whom could easily be cast as The Hulk, are showing up on billboards selling clingy athletic wear. My favorite is Sébastien Chabal, a bearded, long-haired player who is a dead ringer for an early Cro-Magnon (see photo). Paris
But wait a minute, what is this game? It looks, to the uninitiated, like American football without helmets or other protection. In short, a bloody, gruesome brawl. In fact, it is an ancestor of the beloved American pastime, and though there is some quibbling about rugby's exact birth date, it seems to have emerged in the mid-19th century. Not ever having been able to master the rules of football, I cannot explain the exact differences (if you really need to know, look here). But I can tell you that usually within the first fifteen minutes of watching a match on TV, I get up and leave because I just can't stomach watching dozens of super-sized athletes fling themselves on top of each other, and wondering if the guy on the bottom of the pile is going to live to tell the tale. Paris
That was until last Saturday. That was the day when there were two major upsets in the quarter finals: the first being the English beating the Australians, and the second—even more dramatic—the French beating the New Zealand. The New Zealand team, the All Blacks, is a team that is known for it's impressive pre-game Maori war dance, which usually a prelude to death and destruction on the field. The dance/chant, known as the "haka," is wild enough performed by ordinary mortals; when 15 gargantuan rugby players do it you wonder how the other team, which is standing about a yard away, manages not to pee in their pants. (See the YouTube video for the full effect.) This was one time when the French talent for resigned indifference really served its country. While the Bleus didn't exactly look overjoyed, they did manage to keep their dignity. What followed was pretty amazing, even for a sports-challenged viewer like myself. Everyone had been sure that the French were going to get creamed, and yet...the score got closer and closer until it was neck and neck (not that there are any necks to be seen amongst the players), and then, at the last minute, they pulled ahead and won! Shrieks of joy were to be heard all over the apartment building, not the least of which in our living room, where my husband, whose family is from the rugby-worshiping southwest France, was going ballistic. Paris
So now I have to admit that I am eagerly awaiting the game this Saturday, when the French and the English will duke it out. I will watch in wonder as the two teams push and shove each other around the field, and as the ball miraculously emerges from the bottom of a heaving mass of bodies, and how it then is deftly passed around at lightning speed by players who may look like mastodons, but have the agility of panthers when, well, push comes to shove. Have I compromised my values? Or is this simply another example of my going native? Only time will tell....Paris