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The black uniform is the highest honour in any New Zealand code – the dress for the Silver Ferns, the singlet for the Tall Blacks, the bike pants for the cyclists and the constantly discussed black jersey for the All Blacks.
Wearing black for your country, with the silver fern on your chest, means that you represent all four-million odd (some more odd than others) kiwis. As mere spectators, we may not understand the ins and outs of every sport. We will certainly criticise form, haircuts and interview techniques, but slap a black uniform and a silver fern on an athlete and by golly we’re behind you all the way. Especially when you win.
The most famous of our uniforms is the All Blacks black jersey. Young rugby players dream of earning one. Old men boast of ‘nearly’ wearing one. The honour and passion instilled in it continues to be huge, even when some fans do their best to devalue it by wearing it with sneens (sneakers and jeans – this is WRONG).
Donning the black jersey turns a rugby player into a women’s magazine regular, a role model for children, a front person for unlikely sponsor products and the bearer of the nation’s hopes.
There are ups and downs of such responsibility and fame, but one thing that players surely must feel is a sense of gratitude and relief that our national colour is black – a colour that flatters every complexion, barely shows grass stains, and best of all, is fabulously slimming.
It has been said that the All Blacks have an unfair advantage, starting the game after a rousing haka, but the black jersey must also be a confidence booster. Picture the young Australian player, walking on to the paddock for his first test match, ears strapped back, painfully aware that yellow does absolutely nothing for their complexion. Think of the South African, with his face gently reflecting the green of his jersey, or an Argentinean, aware that his baby blue uniform will soon be blue and brown. These awkward moments are something that our team doesn’t have to go through.
Fortunate indeed are All Blacks in their home strip of jet black. Of course, like all good supporters, I’m confident that these manliest of men and could have turned even the white alternative strip to their advantage, creating an illusion of a forward pack with even broader shoulders.
I was brought up to be polite to those hosting me at their place, and it was good to read prior to the tournament that the Canadian team would respectfully choose to wear their red strip when facing the All Blacks during pool play. Just a few days ago the French elected to follow their lead, winning the ‘toss for colours’ before the final, but choosing not to make the All Blacks dress in white for the final. Merci Les Bleus!
The decision makers/stylists of history decided well when they made black the official colour of New Zealand. We stand out amongst the multiple reds, blues, whites, greens and yellows. Tomorrow, when our heroes take the field for the final tomorrow, they’ll show that are far superior to every other team – sartorially and on the scoreboard.
ALLEZ LES NOIR!
There are only two games left of Rugby World Cup 2011 and it is mandatory for all New Zealanders to watch the game and pretend they understand it. There are commentators on the telly who are there to explain things, but unfortunately they seem to speak a language all of their own. To be fair, it must be difficult recognising which player has the ball when they’re all wearing the same uniform, while simultaneously trying to find a way to slip an anecdote of your own playing days in, but our commentators manage to do this AND create new ways to put words together at the same time!
In case you’re not sure what the heck they’re trying to say, here are some translations of common rugby terms and phrases. Note – the most important thing is not to take phrases like ‘coughed the ball’ too literally.
Ruck – When players use their boots to try to get the ball away from other players. If players get too enthusiastic about this, it can result on unsightly scabs.
Taken out – When a player’s ability to be part of the game is compromised by an injury inducing tackle or occasionally a gammy knee, or a players lack of co-ordination. Often, the player causing the injury is completely within the rules, or can get away without being cited because, as we all know, referees are blind/biased/out of their depth.
Sin-bin – This is where players have to go for 10 minutes when they are given a yellow card by the referee for a serious infringement of the rules. This leaves their team a player down, giving the opposition an opportunity to score. As far as I can tell, there is no actual bin that player have to go it. If there was a nasty, smelly skip that players had to spend 10 minutes in, I’m confident that the number of players behaving badly would significantly decrease.
Drop-kick – While this term is used to describe a friend’s ex in a derogatory way, in rugby the drop-kick is something different altogether – it’s a way to score points for your team! Let’s be honest, the drop-kick seems to be a poor substitute for the good old five-point try (with the possibility of a two-point conversion), in fact, it could be said that it just feels wrong! That said, in 2003 the drop-kick became more widely accepted by the ladies when the then remarkably attractive Jonny Wilkinson kicked England to victory over the Wallabies. There have been lots of attempts this RWC to be the king of the drop-kick, with the worst attempt to be Jonny Wilkinson 2003 by Jonny Wilkinson 2011.
Hospital pass – When player A passes the ball to player B and player B has no options except to try to land in a way that will break the least bones.
Nice hands – Something commentators say about a player who is good at throwing the ball, catching the ball, or running with the ball without dropping it.
The top two inches – To you, the beginning rugby fan, it probably seems like rugby is all about running with the ball and trying to get it over the line. You’d be wrong. As commentators are wont to say, especially after a team loses, rugby is all about ‘the top two inches’ – in other words, it’s a mental game, it’s all about ‘mental toughness’ – the ability to think about nothing but strategy, victory and how to overcome the enemy, ahem, opposition. NB. When a player has an afro, it is permissible to change to the top five inches, depending on the size of the fro.
Attacking rugby – When a team is spending the game trying to get the ball over the line to get points. Unlike the rest of the time when they are presumably not trying to score at all.
Bomb – high kicks, no not the type that Can Can dancers do. I might be oversimplifying things, but who cares.
Ping – When the referee penalises a player. A word that’s more fun to say than whistle or penalty. Ping! Ping!
Coughed the ball – when a player involuntarily lets go of the ball, usually a knock on while running with the ball. To experience this, hold on to a cushion and run from one end of a corridor to the other. Get someone to grab you half way down. The motion of you letting go of the cushion, is the ‘cough’.
Engine room – the two locks, numbers 4 & 5. They’re huge, they’re strong, they might have cauliflower ears and they’re the ones who ‘drive’ the scrum forward. The only locks you need to care about our Anthony Boric, Brad Thorn, Samuel Whitelock and Ali Williams, who are a combined height of eight metres. Brad Thorn is the little one at 1.96m.
Goose step – a bit of a knee in the air move designed to confuse the opposition before you suddenly change speed or take off in another direction. At his best Joe Rokocoko used to do this brilliantly.
Got all the skills – similar to a triple threat in musical theatre (can sing, dance AND act), a player who has ‘got all the skills’ can kick, pass, run… and presumably remember the rules of the game. Probably helpful at this level of the game.
High shot – Tackling someone above the shoulders – usually a sign of thoroughly bad sportsmanship, unless it’s your own team and then it is the result of too much speed and unfortunate timing.
Niggle – Usually a minor injury that causes discomfort to a player, but not enough to take them off the field, such as Buck Shelford’s infamous injury to his… shall we say, manly, parts.
Hitting their straps – An overused phrase, originally from horse racing, used to describe a team who are beginning to play extremely well together. This is similar to ‘playing out of their skins’.
Playing like a young… - Used sparingly, this phrase is a compliment to a rising star and help the audience understand what the player has to offer. It’s can also be used by commentators to remind fans that they have a vast store of knowledge about all the history of the sport or to cover a lack of knowledge about the career and playing style of some of the current players.
Back to basics – A phrase used when a player or team has tried something innovative which failed to succeed. This is when teams focus once more on running, kicking, passing and holding on to the ball.
Rugby bingo can be played while watching a game on TV and is a good way to while away the time during less than exciting games. Simply create a list of rugby clichés and distribute amongst your group. Each player marks off the phrases as they’re said by the commentators and player marks them all off first wins. You can tweak the rules to make your own version of the game – perhaps counting the times a particular commentator says a certain phrase. There should be statistics websites measuring these important things.
I said that nothing (except games at Eden Park OBVIOUSLY) would get me to set foot in Kingsland until after 23 October, but I think the Kingsland Thursday Night Lights are about to change that. This awesome project was created as part of the Auckland Heritage Festival and the last ‘shows’ are tonight and next Thursday from about 8:30pm. Nicely done Kingsland.
We’re now at the pointy end of RWC2011, which means that it’s harder to fake knowledge of the game. This might help.
Rugby is something that should be passed down from generation to generation, along with family traditions, recipes and jokes. My earliest rugby memories involve me getting up in the middle of the night to watch games on my Grandfather’s TV that was more cabinet than screen. My early rugby knowledge was gleaned from his opinions and Keith Quinn’s commentary. My understanding was patchy – but I’ve heard Murray Deaker say the game is too hard to understand, so I’m in good company.
Rugby is not the simplest of games – for a start, the goal is to get the ball across a line that is in front of you, but have to throw the ball backwards. Perhaps starting at the beginning will help.
Colloquial history tells us that William Webb Ellis was the first football player who ‘picked up the ball and ran with it’ in 1823, thus inspiring the game of rugby. In honour of this small rebellion, the trophy attached to the Rugby World Cup is called the Webb Ellis Cup. I find it encouraging that even though Rugby (his school) was undoubtedly for the upper class, his double-barrelled surname wasn’t hyphenated. This reinforces that rugby isn’t just for the privileged, but for all.
New Zealand has its own rugby pioneer, Charles Munro who brought the game home from Christ’s College in England. A re-enactment took place in Nelson recently. I sincerely hope they made as much effort to dress up as the confederate soldiers do in Sweet Home Alabama.
But on to the modern game…
Teams: Each team has 15 players on the field and up to seven reserves on the bench. That’s a total of 22, which is also the name of one of the lines on the field. This seems to be a coincidence.
The point of the game: Two teams play each other – each trying to get points by getting the ball to the other team’s end of the field. It makes the game more exciting for spectators if the teams are reasonably evenly matched or if some of the players make spectacular plays or errors. It doesn’t hurt if they’re easy on the eye either.
Scoring: The best kind of scoring is the try – this is when a player touches the ball over the try-line at the far end of the field. The ultimate try is when a player from the team you support sprints down the field, mowing down the opposition and then skidding dramatically across the line. Some believe that this kind of try should get extra points, but the rules state that tries, no matter how dramatic, score five points. Following a try, the opportunity to score an additional two points is awarded, and the nominated kicker (usually, but not always the #10) attempts to get the ball over the goalposts. Penalty kicks are sometimes awarded, for three points. We don’t really like these.
Offside rule: This goes back to where we started – you have to pass the ball backwards. A player in front of the ball is not allowed to receive any advantage without being pinged. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is surely that it looks cool when the attacking players all run forward in an attractive shape not unlike birds in formation.
Kicking: It is totally okay to kick the ball forward.
Line-out: In the round ball game we know as soccer or football they just throw the ball in when it goes out of bounds. In rugby, when Team A puts the ball into touch, someone from Team B gets to throw the ball in, but instead of chucking it straight to one of their own guys, they have to throw it in a straight line between their own team and the opposition. Rugby’s way is much more exciting, because it gives the forwards (the big guys with the small numbers on their backs) a chance to be the stars as they throw each other into the air in an attempt to get to the ball before the other team.
Scrum: Crouch, touch, pause, engage. Apparently the scrum is a safe way to restart the game. It looks a bit like a reverse tug of war, with players attempting to gain ground so that their Hooker (number 2) can get the ball to the back of the scrum so that it can be rescued by the number 8 or 9 and then be freed to be run up the field once more.
The Field: A rugby field is 100m long and 70m wide. It has been this way for ages and remains the same even though new camera angles may appear to make it square. There is a big H of a goalpost at each end. These goalposts shrink when your least successful kicker is on, and grow for the opposition.
Time: It is indeed a game of two 40 minute halves. With a break in the middle for team talks, toilet stops and the chance to get some more hot chips.
We’re at quarter-finals time for Rugby World Cup 2011. This means that 12 of the teams (that’s 360 players) have packed their bags and gone back to whence they came, and eight teams have reached what is attractively referred to as the ‘sudden death’ stage of the tournament. This means that for every game from now on (other than the 3rd and 4th playoff match), if you lose, you’re gone.
These are the eight teams that are still in the running to become the World’s Next Top Rugby Team, a brief look at their tournament so far and my thoughts on their future in the competition.
Quarter-final 1: Ireland v Wales, Saturday 8 October, 6pm, Wellington
Ireland won us over with their enthusiasm, incomprehensible interviews (mainly coach Declan Kidney, due to accent related difficulties) and winning all three of their pool matches, including a 15-6 win over Australia, which filled us all with exceedingly great joy. This put them firmly at the top of Pool C and turned them into the favourite Northern Hemisphere team for many Kiwis. I’m still not sure what I think of a dude nicknamed BOD, even if it is his nickname, but this is great for Ireland, a nation that is still hurting after the whole Thierry Henri incident in the Football World Cup qualifier a couple of years ago. Yes, that was cross-code referencing, keep up. I like Ireland. They’re like family. That’ll be the Irish heritage. Anyone know where you can get ‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ t-shirts?
Oh those Welsh. They nearly beat South Africa, but they didn’t. They’re still here though and they have a Kiwi coach in Warren Gatland, so we like them. Don’t think they’ll win this game though. But who knows, the tournament is only really getting started and we’re likely to have a few surprises.
Quarter –final 2: England v France, Saturday 8 October, 8:30pm, Auckland
England are all a bit of a yawn really. We’ve talked more about the off-field antics of the Queen’s G-I-L than their games, and Jonny Wilkinson is getting talked about like he’s a geriatric at only 32. Coach Martin Johnson won as a player two tournaments ago, but that that was ages ago, so who knows. There doesn’t seem to be much affection from them. I may be half English, but that half of my heritage couldn’t care less about the oval ball, so I can’t bring myself to support them.
We have strong feelings about the French ever since they ruined all of our lives at the quarter-finals of the last world cup. But the team is apparently in disarray and in spite of Takapuna’s best efforts to make them at home and Tonga’s best efforts to show them how the game is played, I don’t think Les Coqs will win this weekend. A bientot France.
Quarter-final 3: South Africa v Australia, Sunday 9 October 6pm, Wellington
South Africa are the reigning champions, and they are really annoying and rough so we don’t want them to win. They topped Pool D but they have some serious missing talent with Bakkies Botha and Francois Steyn both out. Plus I don’t want them to win.
I like Australia, some of my best friends are Australians. Although it has taken several years of not working in sport to stop seeing Australian athletes as my personal enemy, I think they have a few things to teach us about commitment and winning (not the Charlie Sheen kind). But man, I really, really love it when we beat Australia so I want them to win this weekend so that we can thrash them in the semi-final. Is that too much to ask?
Quarter-final 4: New Zealand v Argentina, Sunday 9 October, 8:30pm, Auckland
Ah, the All Blacks. They haven’t had a real challenge during this tournament yet and Argentina is unlikely to stretch them much. It has been great to see some of the rising stars like Izzy Dagg show us what they can do and even if we have lost Dan Carter and have some worrying niggles, I have faith that they can nail the game this weekend. I’m a little more nervous about the following one, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves… again. I’m on Team Slade – I hope young Colin gets a good run this weekend. I think he’ll come right on the kicking and would like to remind you all that when Dan Carter came on the scene he wasn’t as smooth-faced and calm as he is now and there were people who said ‘He’s no Mehrtens.’ Go Colin!
Argentina did beat Romania and Georgia, but they’ve been a little disappointing this tournament. They haven’t been getting many test matches, but there’s hope that being part of the quad-nations will help their game. I wanted them to do well because South Americans are really fun and I love the musical Evita.
What comes next?
Semi-final 1: Winner QF1 v Winner QF2, Saturday 15 October, 9pm
Semi-final 2: Winner QF2 v Winner QF3, Sunday 16 October, 9pm
Bronze-final: Loser SF1 v Loser SF2, Friday 21 October, 8:30pm
Final: Winner SF1 v Winner SF2, Sunday 23 October, 9pm
GO THE ALL BLACKS!