Saturday, July 23, 2011
This weekend I had off in Christchurch, so after checking out the excellent Farmer's market in Riccarton we indulged in a spot of compulsory earthquake tourism in Sumner. While driving along looking for cracks and boulders, Mark and I heard on the radio that one of the provincial cup matches was on at Rugby Park, so on a whim we decided to check it out. (I'm writing a play titled The First Asian A*B*, so am experiencing an uncharacteristic interest in rugby).
It turned out to be an excellent match to attend. Rugby Park, in the central suburb of St Albans, is a smallish local ground, called into service now that the AMI stadium is out of action for the forseeable future. It's much smaller, but also much less "commercial" feeling and therefore much closer to the feel of a homeground match in the 1990s, when the opening of the play is set.
The local heroes Canterbury were playing national underdogs Southland for the ITM Cup, and to up the stakes, the Ranfurly Shield was being challenged for. The region's rugby fans were confident ( and much more diehard and ubiquitous than in Auckland, from what I can gather). They had just come out of the Crusaders almost winning the Super 15 and the local Canterbury team winning their recent matches in a very convincing way. Also, as it was a home game the crowd was out in force, decked out in various warm combinations of red and black.
So it was all looking pretty grim for the Southlanders, especially as Canterbury scored two tries while I was still in the queue for tickets (I could tell by the response from over the wall). But then, amazingly, the Southlanders put their heads down and outrun, out defended and out possessed the ball. Their ball handling wasn't was good as Canterbury's, but they made less mistakes and had a great goal kicker and this meant they scored the crucial penalty which won them the match. (By the way, if any of what I am writing sounds wrong it probably is - I'm still pretty junior in terms of rugby watching!)
Anyway, I spent quite a bit of my time paying attention to the crowd around me rather than the action on the field. When the ball neared our end of the field (the tryline for the home team in the second half) people could be heard calling to their favourite players, rather like you'd call for a cat at dinnertime: "Here Robbie! this way!". There were lots of kids in the crowd waving their homemade "TRY!" placards, ditto posh looking old ladies - it seems everyone in Chch comes to the rugby. Particularly rich as soundbite sources were the two grumpy old buggers sitting just to the left and behind us. Throughout the game they could be heard muttering comments like, "what an idiot, can't he pass", "look at that, now the ball's back to where it started," "how did he get that? for goodness' sake." Another man, on the phone to a mate with the teams tied at 19-19 and with 12 minutes to go on the clock: "Never you mind, venison's still on the menu at Rugby Park" (Southland mascot is a deer).