Footy

The newest Chiefs fans

(Dana) Other lands, other cultures, other sports. Our newest athletic experience… footy, or rugby. Yes, rugby is played in some schools across the US, but it holds a completely different level of exultation in New Zealand. New Zealand hosts the World Cup this fall. Kiwi professional teams play in a SuperLeague against teams from Australia and South Africa. Semi-professional teams play in towns across each of these countries. And school children play religiously, striving to make their schools’ “top 15” (our varsity team).

We had the opportunity to experience both levels – a Top 15 game at a private school in Cape Town, South Africa and a professional match here in New Zealand. Here are the basics. Two teams of 15 play on a field 100 meters long with an end zone and goal post at each end. The basic objective is very similar to American Football: move the ball down the field, score across the try line and kick extra points from a spot parallel to where you scored.

In rugby, though, a “try” replaces a touchdown. Ironically, unlike a touchdown, rugby players actually must touch the ball onto the ground to score, causing some spectacular dives. A try is worth 5 points and the kick after is worth 2. At any point, players can choose to drop kick the ball through the uprights for 3 points.

The primary difference is that you cannot pass the ball forward; it must go laterally or behind. So the team works together to move the ball down the field. Wearing no pads or helmets, the opposing team crushes the ball carrier. If his forward momentum is stopped, he must put the ball on the ground, push it back to his teammates with his feet and the passing begins again. The team pounds down the field, hoping that one of their speedy players can break through the defense and streak toward the end zone. If they’re not getting anywhere, they can punt the ball at any time. This usually causes a change in possession, but the kicking team can actually fall on the ball and retain possession as long as everyone stays onside behind the kicker.

The Chiefs execute a line-out

There are some other fun differences. On occasion, a scrum happens; 8 players from each team link arms and push against each other. The ball is fed into the center of the circle, and each team tries to move the scrum so that the ball emerges on their side. In a line-out (out-of-bounds situation), the players line up like an in-bound in basketball, but they can pick up their teammates to get more reach.

The action continues for 40 minutes per half with no time outs and no substitutions (like professional soccer, if you go out, you’re done for the night). These guys are in incredible shape and they are BIG! After watching our first professional game on TV, we happen to run into the Chiefs as they drove to their next game against the Crusaders. Feeling spontaneous, we drove 3 hours the next day to buy tickets for the game and cheer for our new friends. Unfortunately, they lost, but we experienced a new professional sport. Given how much scoring, hitting and running there is in just 80 minutes, we’re surprised this sport isn’t bigger in the US. Maybe as the world gets smaller, it will be.

 

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