16:00 – The shame has been with me since 2002. Every time I pull out my passport, a tear of guilt forms in my eye. A Kiwi who claims to be an avid sports fan who’s never watched a rugby game in his entire 19 years of existence on this planet? Stop it. Those creatures don’t exist. But alas, I was indeed one of those pitiful beings, trapped in a whirlpool of self-loathing and indignation when it came to rugby.
But no more. As I sit on the comfy sofa in the Regent’s Park college bar, left hand nervously gripping a pint of questionable lager, I draw on all the national pride I have and brace myself for the Rugby World Cup semi-finals match between the mighty All Blacks and the Springboks. Rugby had never appealed to me before – I didn’t know any of the players or any of the rules. But the hiding had to stop and what better way to do it then to support the country that I unconvincingly call ‘home’ through its pursuit of glory? Of course, the chance to drink beer, watch sports and document my experience in the name of Cherwell made the venture a bit more appealing.
16:05 – I’m feeling comfortable, happily nursing my pint and still clueless as ever, when New Zealand concedes its first penalty of the day before I could even sip my beer. The kick is successfully taken by a man who can only be described as a Tony Kroos lookalike who’s been living in the gym since birth. Meanwhile, a bitter English fresher states that he lost interest in the tournament ever since England was disgracefully knocked out of the group stages, whilst the JCR president make an attempt at rugby related chat. No one is surprised or amused.
16:08 – Kaino scores a try for the All Blacks, sporting a very stylish headband. Unenthusiastic murmurs of “Oh hey, he scored” fill the bar. A bunch of big men start hugging on TV. Life is good, apparently.
16:24 – Slow motion replay of a tackle made on NZ’s no. 2 makes me glad that I never picked up the sport in primary school. God bless my childhood chubbiness. Conversation switches to the Premier League, which obviously means a standard check of football scores and fantasy team. Chelsea selling dreams. Vardy scores again. None of this is relevant.
16:28 – The guy with the Go-Pro next to the scrum must not have had any regard for his well-being when deciding on an occupation.
16:39 – Aforementioned reckless individual confirmed to be the ref. In other news, it has room ignores him.
16:42 – Commentator says exactly the opposite of what I said three minutes ago. I’m going to go with what I’m seeing. Screw that guy.
17:07 – Wrongly thinking that halftime is 15 minutes, I miss Carter scoring a drop goal to make it 12-10. Another indication that I know absolutely nothing about this game.
17:14 – Try for the All Blacks as super-sub Barrett dives towards the corner. Despite the fact that I haven’t been back to New Zealand since 2013 and I don’t actually remember the national anthem, patriotic pride is starting to sink in. My jubilation is shared with the ecstatic kiwi crowd on the screen, but not with the slightly confused people around me.
17:28 – All Blacks continue to pile pressure on South Africa. The thought of pressure triggers the sudden realization that I have an essay on twentieth-century American unionization due dangerously soon. Oh well. I love rugby.
17:48 – Five minutes left and it’s actually getting tense. All the players look exhausted, but the All Blacks look like they’ve got more to give than their SA counterparts, playing relentlessly as if they’re the team that’s behind. Commentator suggests that New Zealand’s experience gives them the edge, which would have made sense if the other team has never been to the semi-finals before. But from what I hear, South Africa is a powerhouse. Questionable commentating apparently is universal after all.
17:53 – New Zealand wins the match 20-18. I celebrate with a fist-pump, met with a chorus of “You don’t know anything about rugby.” As if that really matters.
After 113 minutes of confusion and exhilaration, my first experience of rugby concluded. Although my understanding of the game was not enhanced by much, it was nonetheless evident that this match was an immaculate showcase of skill and will. Needless to say, I can’t wait for the second part of my rugby education next week, when the All Blacks hopefully win it all.