mojothumb (11)For years I had heard of rugby but never understood the game or managed to watch a match for longer than it took me to change the channel. My interest level toward the sport matched that of antiquing, stamp collecting and beetroots: Zero. Upon deciding I would be studying abroad in New Zealand, I immediately decided my attitudes toward rugby would need to change.

Perhaps one of my biggest apprehensions about studying abroad was the lack of American sports. By coming to New Zealand I missed my baseball team’s playoffs over the summer; I’m forced to internet radio to follow Major League Baseball’s postseason; I don’t get the luxury of watching Monday Night Football or enjoying the beginning to the new hockey season.

otago-stadiumIn the near-absence of American sports from my life while in New Zealand, rugby has been a good substitute; especially with the country hosting the Rugby World Cup. My education in rugby started as soon as I arrived in Dunedin. I made some Kiwi friends who knew all about the sport, so they offered to teach me some things. I would go over to their flat and watch in the glory of their flat screen, HD TV.

Turns out there are two different types of rugby: League and Union. League is played in Australia with 15 Australian teams and one from New Zealand – naturally we would all cheer for the team from NZ. Rugby Union is played all over the world and is the form of rugby played in the World Cup. Though they are essentially the same game, the biggest differences are how many times a player is downed before the ball is turned over and what kind of tackles players can use. All in all, they are very fun games to watch; very upbeat and quick. The closest comparison is to American football with a little bit of soccer mixed in.

I’m super happy to have to the opportunity to be in New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup. New Zealand’s team, the All Blacks, is a national icon. It’s a unifying point for the entire country. They win something like 98% of their games, but have only won one World Cup (the very first one, in 1987). They are notorious for losing tough matches ever since, especially in 1995 to South Africa in the final (basis for the movie Invictus). This year they won all four of their matches in pool play are playing strong. The country is buzzing with excitement.

A great benefit of four matches being played in Dunedin is the vast mix of culture. The city’s played host to the English, Argentine, Romanian, Georgian, Italian and Irish teams and fans. I was even able to attend a World Cup match (England v. Georgia), a memory I’ll cherish all my life. The mix of so many cultures in one sports bar makes matches interesting and filled with tension. Almost like the Olympic Games, the World Cup brings people of so many countries together in harmony. If only the world’s people were like this all the time.

Micah Auman, Elizabethtown College

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