At about age six, while trying to gain speed on our backyard swing set, my brother and a neighborhood friend unwittingly taught me a lesson. Shouts of "I'll be Mario Andretti!" and "I'll be AJ Foyt!" were confidently followed by my "I'll be OJ Simpson!" (pre-scandal of course) only to be immediately ridiculed that my aspirational hero was not at all a race car driver. Subconsciously, I think I realized that if I wanted to play with the boys, I better get my act together with sports.
I've been known to scoop up a few grounders and dig a few spikes back in the day. And lord knows I've spent many-a-Sunday glued to a couch watching football through breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I appreciate the discipline, determination, and spirit of teamwork. So, challenging doesn't begin to cover how it has felt to tune in to local sports news which focuses on New Zealand's biggest sports: rugby, cricket, and men's softball. While the national teams are called the All Blacks, the Black Caps, and the Black Sox respectively, I am the one in the dark!
I have listened intently as some of my Kiwi companions along the way have patiently explained the basics to me. Wayne, my lovable host at Two Tree Lodge in wine country, gave me all kinds of pointers on rugby over a big glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I hung on every word of Will, my Milford Sound guide, as he imparted his cricket knowledge to me. And I've eavesdropped on far too many public conversations than is polite to gain some insight on the first-time-I'm-hearing-about-this ISF (men's International Softball Federation). Of which NZ is the world champs, by the way.
With the end of my trip on the horizon, I decided to go straight to the source and immerse myself in a rugby match. Admittedly, I've been following the Super 15 (the rugby league that New Zealand teams participate in with Australia and South Africa) schedule for weeks now hoping that a match would cross paths with me. Tonight back in Wellington, I was a Hurricanes fan!
Aside from the crowd-pleasing motivational chant "Hur-ri-canes!" (clap, clap, clap), I learned quite a bit about the rugby experience. The refs are clothed head to toe in pink. The 15-man team plays both offense and defense. The players wear absolutely no pads (except mouth guards). And they sell beer and brats at the stadium. By the middle of the first half, I actually was cheering at the right moments and yelling the Hurricanes' chant with the best of them.
I really would have loved to have seen the world-famous (and current world champs), New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks, in action but their season doesn't start until winter here. No matter. With the regional Hurricanes match, there was plenty of black and blue to go around.
Super 15 Rugby match. Hurricanes and Kings in a scrum on the field.
The newest Hurricanes fan! (Check out the simple, empty sidelines. Only players and a handful of cameramen were down there the whole time.)
Hurricanes fans leaving Westpac stadium happy after the win!