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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ally Gimbel | When kiwis fly

I just want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a sports fan. I have no idea what "offside" means and the only time I ever cared about Tom Brady was when he modeled underwear for Calvin Klein. Other than that, sports have never really entered my field of interests.

But after only a few weeks in New Zealand, I have come to love and appreciate the one athletic activity that New Zealand is actually good at. And no, it's not a sheep-shearing competition.

I'm talking about rugby. You know, the game that's kind of a beefed-up combination of football, soccer and wrestling, where 15 hyper-muscular players wearing spandex shorts and no pads kick a ball up and down a pitch and frequently stop to beat the crap out of each other? Yeah, that one.

For those of you who are familiar with rugby, I apologize in advance, for though I've dedicated myself to the league of Kiwi rugby-heads (and by this I mean watching a game, or test as they call it, at the local pub, drinking Speight's beer with my fellow American poseurs), I know basically nothing about the rules of rugby, save for something about not passing forward and a position called "hooker."

This leaves me in a bit of a sports-writing dilemma. No, I can't report any news about rugby strategy or statistics. Heck, I don't even totally understand how the game is even played. What I can do, however, is relay to you, the American college student population, a mildly superficial understanding of the cultural phenomenon that is New Zealand rugby.

Extensive anthropological research (by this I mean watching televised tests and attending one live) has yielded the following results in my search to understand rugby culture and meld with the greater Kiwi society:

1. Every Kiwi knows and loves the All Blacks — the New Zealand national team. Most news coverage is devoted to what Captain Richie McCaw ate for breakfast and what happened during today's practice, rather than actual issues facing the nation. Anyone you meet is likely to recall Coach Graham Henry's starting lineup faster than his own telephone number.

2. Rugby and the economy go hand in hand. If New Zealand wins a test, especially the Tri-Nations Tournament, a competition between the Australian, South African and New Zealand national teams, the economy takes off (probably due entirely to the rise in beer sales). When the All Blacks lose, everyone in New Zealand descends into a cave of depression.

3. Half the reason Kiwis (and tourists) watch rugby is to see the All Blacks perform a "haka," a traditional Maori war dance, before each test. Watching 15 freakishly huge men slapping their chests and bulging their eyes is enough to draw any viewer into the primordial realm of rugby fandom, from which there is no escape. Trust me on this. YouTube the haka once and you'll never watch "Charlie Bit My Finger" again.

4. You're not a real New Zealander unless you play rugby, nor are you a real rugby player unless you have in some way or another injured every appendage of your body. There are leagues set up for every age and gender. Imagine 9-year-olds entering the hospital for fractured eye sockets, escorted by their parents who, shockingly, have never been prouder.

I've come to find that you don't have to totally understand all the complex rules of rugby in order to enjoy it. In fact, the crux of this game's importance to the Kiwi population lies more in its role as a testament to endurance, strength and raw athletic skill.

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Ally Gimbel is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at Allyson.Gimbel@tufts.edu.