My pleasant relationship with Rugby began many months ago, in one of the ubiquitous Virgin Active gyms which one can find all across Cape Town and beyond. In Cape Town, its effectively impossible to find a gym other than Virgin Active, who basically has a monopoly on the trade. As with any intelligent monopoly, Virgin Active is rather expensive, which is why I ultimately decided not to join. I spend all day running around the woods with monkeys, so paying 700 Rand a month did not seem like a worthwhile investment.
Nevertheless, my thanks go out to Virgin Active for presenting me with my first rugby game. There I was, waiting to speak with a VA customer representative and his firmly muscled... apprentice? Bodyguard? In the waiting room, they were kind enough to leave a South African sports network on the TV. There, I witnessed my first professional rugby game.
Several months later, after having rugby games mentioned to me quite a few times, occasionally as a suggestion, the posse looked into getting tickets, and found it all quite agreeable. 70 Rand for a decent seat? Of course we'll go. We had to get it together though, the local team - the Stormers, was only playing one more regular game at Newlands Stadium for more than a month as this is the season of the Super 14 Tournament. So, we committed and bought ourselves tickets for the March 20th match against the Free State Cheetahs.
I'll say it again, Rugby is huge in South Africa. The hugeness is derived largely from the Afrikaans speaking population, which includes Afrikaners, Coloreds, and some other Europeans. The players in the league appear to still be mostly white, but the crowd was surprisingly diverse. The Afrikaans influence was pretty notable when most of the big text is in Afrikaans before English (if English appeared at all, which is damn rare in the city these days). Most unpleasant was some young white dude who practically accosted us as we were trying to find our way in through the crowd. He came out of nowhere and talked at us in Afrikaans, until he picked up on the fact that we weren't going to respond and were moving away from him hastily. I was doing my best to fit in by wearing my stylized Springboks T-shirt (see above); just maybe it worked too well.
Soon after the game began, the two of us who made it on time realized that there was a tiny problem: we didn't really know the rules of the game. It was obvious that they were trying to score touchdowns (try's) and kick drop (field) goals, but the passing and tackling and throw-ins and scrums were... unclear to us. It didn't help that there were no video monitors which we had a decent viewing angle on, and more surprisingly, no loud overhead announcers. Plus, we picked seats on the Stormer side of the field because they were "our" team, but they dominated the majority of the game so we didn't get to see too much of the action up close. Don't get me wrong, it was all great to watch. The crowd was lively, the action as heavy, and we decided to make up our own rules when we couldn't figure out what was going on, which was quite delightful.
Rainer arrived just before halftime. He had been taking the train, which was delayed 40 minutes. Seeing as it was about quitting time and there was a game in Newlands, the train was packed. When half-time hit, we all went to look for beer and boerewors. We couldn't seem to locate any of the sausage vendors now that the game had started, but the pub was easy enough to find. I played a zone defense while one of our party worked to the front and purchased cans of Black Label. It was then we discovered that we could not leave the pub room with beer. "No alcohol past this point," the short colored security woman told me.
Now I found (and still find) this damn confusing. Its rugby! Its South Africa! How can they not let people drink in the stands? They'd make a fortune! The best reason we could come up with was that the crowds became too rowdy if they could drink in the stands. I'm not convinced.
So, we (okay, maybe just I) chugged our beer and ran back our to our seats for the second half. In short, the Stormers continued to dominate, closing out the game with a 21-8 victory over the Cheetahs. Here is a proper journalist's round up of the game, from people who can appreciate the individual and team talents/moves on the field. Apparently there were quite a few injuries. I didn't really notice, but I can't say I'm at all surprised.
We worked our way out of the stadium, through the massive crowd to our distantly parked car. I'm not sure how Newlands can support that stadium, but its been there in one capacity or another for decades, so they must know what they're doing. For our post-game show, we went into town somewhere to find delicious food (probably wors rolls), and then probably drank more beer somewhere else.