A sellout crowd was on hand to watch Team Canada's rugby team take on the Maori All-Blacks. The crowd was lively, and it proved one thing for sure: there's an appetite in this town for rugby. With the proliferation of rugby in British Columbia's high schools, it's a little surprising that the pro game hasn't capitalized on the opportunity that exists in the city. Every time Vancouver hosts a rugby event (see the Sevens tournament earlier this year), it draws people to the stadium, without fail.
Rugby is clearly a game like no other, and even though your trusty correspondent has watched a fair bit of the sport, and even played the underrated EA Sports rugby video game (yes, such a thing exists), there were still some moments that made us ponder what the heck we were seeing.
Below is a peek into what it was like for a person who's spent thousands of hours watching professional sports try and follow the game of rugby.
6:30: It's general admission seating (great idea, actually), so we gather our spots in the assigned general area. Peter, my friend from Ireland who led this expedition down to BC Place is freaking out about how late we are. He wanted seats close to the grass. We end up pretty far back, but we have five seats all together, and that's good enough for us.
6:45: The place is packed to the brim. Peter was right. People are now sitting in the stairwell. And they don't even look upset about it.
7:00: The anthems are played. The New Zealand anthem is really awesome.
7:05: The haka starts. If you don't know what that is, rest assured that it's probably the most unfair thing I've ever seen at a sporting event. Basically, the New Zealand team gets to do a crazy, threatening dance in front of Canada, while the Canadians just stand there and take it. The New Zealand team is going nuts, performing throat-slitting gestures and generally yelling in the faces of Team Canada.
7:06: Every phone in the stadium is currently taking out-of-focus pictures of the haka.
7:08: I know that Maori is an Indigenous group native to New Zealand, and apparently this team is composed only of players of Maori descent. It's described to me as "if Canada had a team of only Quebecois players." I ask my rugby-informed friends how close the comparison really is, like are the Maoris only good at one position, like goaltenders from Quebec? They don't know.
7:10: The haka is still happening. Is this time just set aside for teams to do what they please? Could Team Canada step up there and recite the Charter of Rights and Freedoms while New Zealand is promising to split them in half? Per my friends' analogy, it's hard not to imagine a Quebecois hockey team shouting in French at opposing teams on the ice while everyone just stares at them.
7:15: I expected New Zealand to run all over Canada, but I didn't anticipate Canada being so bad in the strategic aspects of the game. The Canadians can't win their own lineouts (like a throw-in situation in soccer, except the players are allowed to lift each other up in order to grab the ball), even though the other team isn't supposed to have any idea where you're going with the ball.
7:18: Team Canada gets close-ish to the New Zealand end zone, but they can't break the line of players in black that holds steady. New Zealand takes a penalty (on penalties the referee points at the team that is gaining the advantage instead of pointing in the direction that the team is heading, like in every other sport), and Canada takes a kick to go up 3-0. The crowd is happy.
7:21: New Zealand scores on a blown Canadian coverage, and it becomes apparent that while there are probably less New Zealand fans in the crowd, they are just as loud as the Canadian supporters.
7:30: A couple kicks from Team Canada and one from NZ, and it's 10-9. Pretty tight game so far, wonder if Canada will actually put up a fight in this one.
7:32: A Canadian player gets injured and, in a truly mind-boggling turn of events, the play continues around the player and the medic tending to him. They just carry on as though nothing has happened. Sure, injuries happen in sports all the time, but a medic attending to a player on the field while play continues? What the hell is this sport?
7:35: New Zealand scores again after some pressure (not to mention Canada just lost a dude and play went on around him, I really can't get over that) and it's 17-9 for the Maoris. A try (the rugby equivalent of a touchdown) is worth five points and a kick conversion is worth two. So it's like getting a touchdown except the points had to be slightly different because this sport loves confusion.
7:37: A New Zealand player makes a great play but it looks like he's out of bounds, but the ref missed it initially, so I guess they're just going to review this and it'll be overtur...nope, it looks like play is going to just continue. I guess there's no video review in this sport? Cool, very cool.
7:39: The Maori pull an amazing set play off a lineout and the Canadians are caught completely off balance. It's 27-9 now.
7:40: Oh, OK, it's halftime. There are 40 minute halves, not 45 like in soccer.
7:50: Just in the beer lineup getting a couple, I definitely still have at least 10 minutes though, so it's all good.
7:51: Um, nevermind, they're starting. They only took a 10-minute break? Good god, this game really needs to be re-modeled for the modern fan.
7:52: Hello, rugby federation? Yes, I've got some ideas on how to change your game to make it more appealing for this era of sports. What's that? You've been playing for more than a century and you don't give a shit? Hm. Fair.
8:03: New Zealand scores again when a player blocks a kick and takes it the entire way. This thing is getting a little out of hand.
8:11: A Canadian player takes a penalty and is sent to what's called the "sin bin" (he's made to stand on the side of the field away from his teammates). New Zealand scores during the penalty. And no, none of this was announced in any way shape or form. You really have to pay attention to have any real idea of what's going on.
8:13: The subs for the teams start warming up, which is fine and all, but they're doing so on the field. The ball is at mid-field and play is going on while the subs are doing tackling drills at both end zones. No, seriously, they're doing drills on the field while the game is in play.
8:14: Hi, yeah, rugby federation, it's me again. Really think you should go back to the drawing board on this "players can warm up on the field during live play" thing. For one, it's dangerous, and two, anything could happen on the...Hello?
8:22: A crowd of 29,480 is announced and everyone cheers. New Zealand scores again on relentless pressure.
8:35: The match is blown dead to the presumed relief of Team Canada. The final score is 51-9 for the Maoris.
8:37: The crowd empties out and heads for the washrooms. Someone in the massive crowd at the men's room in section 204 suggests that we all begin to relieve ourselves in the circular sink in the middle of the room. It wouldn't be the weirdest thing that happened tonight.More