Hey, Bro, Do You Even Know Rugby?

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(Originally posted on BrightRock Change Exchange)

Like an ankle tap right before the try-line, my transition from total disinterest in rugby to avid fandom came as a surprise to friends who knew me as a kid. Rugby? Dave? Never!

I’ve live-tweeted the world cup, unearthed the sacred inner circles of SuperBru and researched player profiles late into the night, selecting a world team of current players and setting them up against a world team of past players. Sort of like Dungeons and Dragons, but with fewer spells.

So when I was invited to a match in a private box at Newlands I knew my conversion was complete. I belong. I was amped, and ready to cheer on the local team as they trounced the cheeky overseas upstarts. Bring it on. I’m so ready!

A cold and windy Cape Town match night arrived and my two mates and I made our way to the box, moving through the chanting crowds heading off to their public pens. Our box was right at the top of the stadium. You just don’t get more exclusive than that.

A premium night was on the cards, make no mistake – we were even joined in the box by members of the local team playing that night. Cue child-like levels of excitement.

Onwards to the start of the game! With a loud peal of music and the flash-bang of fireworks, the players ran onto the field – one side in blue and the other in white. A lanky giant of a man with a bush of curly blond hair led the team in white to their side of the field. Hmm. Must have been a new player. I didn’t recall him in the line-up.

With the match soon under way, all eyes were on the ball. Well…all eyes except mine. Seated as we were so high up in the stadium I couldn’t really see the ball. No problem. Just follow the guy running the fastest towards the try-line. Simple. Er … isn’t it?

A fast exchange, and an obvious interception – great – I could follow exactly what was going on way down on the field. But why was everyone cheering for the other team? Had I misjudged my mates’ alliance? Would they cheer for the other team, while we were surrounded in the box by huge, fired-up players from the local squad? Suddenly my future looked violent, and short.

I screwed up my eyes trying to see what they were seeing that brought on their dangerous offside cheering. Nothing. Maybe they were just a little slow in keeping up with the action. No matter – back to the game!

Damn! A player in blue broke through and cut a dash to the try-line, a flying try scored right beneath the uprights. The box erupted in a deafening roar – even the giants seated around us from the local team were on their feet, fist-pumping the air and high-fiving galore. What the hell was going on here? Why was everyone cheering for the other team? Had they all gone completely mad?

As everyone was taking their seats again, I turned to my mates, wanting an explanation. The crowd was still loud and so I raised my voice to be heard…and then it happened! A sudden drop in the ambient noise as I chose that exact moment to yell out “Which one is our team? Why are you all cheering for the team in blue?” – followed by deathly silence. Everyone had heard my worse-than-novice faux pas.

My friends looked away, pretending they didn’t know me. In the row in front of us, a huge mountain of a man turned around and fixed me with a glare not unlike the one seen by small, irrelevant prey just before the snake strikes. “Bro, do you even know rugby? We’re the okes in blue.” I could feel my mates edging away in their seats, leaving me to my fate – death by public humiliation.

“Oh. Thanks. Um. I’m new here…” I offered. But I was already forgotten, and everyone’s attention was back on the game. For some reason, the chill in the air seemed chillier still. Odd weather we were having.

The blue team went on to win the match that night – a glorious victory with a huge margin. I cheered in all the right places and felt the gees well up in me with each try scored and each conversion…er…converted?

There really is nothing like watching the match live. It’s electric. And alive and unedited. And you really should pay attention to the kit your team wears so that you don’t look a complete twit and cheer for the wrong team. There can be no greater sin.

I hope my friends will talk to me again someday.

  • The Super Rugby clash between the DHL Stormers and the Sunwolves took place on 8 July 2017. The Stormers obliterated the visitors with a 52-15 victory.

© Dave Luis for BrightRock.

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