October 28, 2017
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The 2017 Rugby World Cup Series has begun!
Truthfully, I did not know until about six weeks ago that the United States of America even had a professional rugby team, but once I found out that they were coming here to Townsville to play in the Rugby World Cup Series, you can bet that I became their newest #1 fan. So naturally, as their newest number-one fan, I was stoked when I learned that an “all American style” pep-rally was being held on campus to welcome the team to Townsville.
Prior to the pep-rally, there was a media call for red-white-and-blue clad Americans to gather for a promotional photo. Since it happened to be at a time I didn’t have class, I was able to wander over to check it out and ended up holding up some pom-poms that made the local news paper, the Townsville Bulletin. By the time the pep-rally came around a few days later, I still didn’t know much at all about the USA Rugby team, but I was still keen to meet them and stoked to welcome them to Australia. The evening of the rally, JCU students from all over the world followed the sound of the song “Party in the USA,” which seemed to be on repeat, to the JCU rugby fields. The “all-American” pep-rally was planned by some JCU students for an event planning course. It was surprising to learn this because the event seemed pretty professional and very official with the local newspaper and tv-news crews on scene. There were a few food carts serving up some street food, that was ironically advertised as Cuban instead of American, but hey, it still looked delicious.
While my friends and I waited for the team to show up, we were able to get free tickets to the USA vs Fiji rugby match, which was going to be USA’s first match in the 2007 Rugby World Series. After booking our tickets, there were a few rugby vs American football trivia questions asked to the crowd. This is where I finally began to learn some rugby background knowledge. I learned that while American football has four 15 minute quarters, rugby has two forty-minute halves. Also, NFL fields have a total playing length of 100 yards (91 meters) where as in rugby, playing field length is 100 meters. And lastly, I learned that while NFL teams have 11 players on the field at a time, rugby has a whopping 15 players on the field.
After the trivia questions, the young Townsville Fire cheerleaders lead a few chants and danced a few cheers while we waited for the team to apear. As we saw their tour bus pull up, everyone lined up face to face to make a tunnel for the team to run through. We cheered and cheered as they …walked… towards us. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t come running in, but apparently they had just come from their first practice in Australia and were still adjusting to the jet lag and humid weather in Townsville, so I guess I should cut them a little slack.
They all gathered up on the porch above the field and introduced themselves. Since this event was organized to give the team a proper welcome to Townsville, naturally, they needed to learn about the different types of wildlife to look out for in the land down under, just like all of the JCU international students learn upon arriving in Australia. So, Ranger Dan from Hands on Wildlife brought up a snake and a crocodile for them to learn how to avoid and also how to carefully handle when being shown like they were today. It was funny watching the reaction of the players. Some were very keen to get a photo with a croc or snake, and others were nearly climbing over the balcony railing trying to get a away. I guess that just goes to show that even tough rugby players have their weaknesses.
After the team was introduced, most of them took to the field to casually toss a rugby ball around with some students. This is when my shoulder was tapped by a reporter from the Bulletin who recognized me from the promotional photos a few days before. He asked if I would be willing to take some photos with a couple of the players. Of course I said yes and then was asked to get a couple of my American friends to join me. Then I was stuck. All of my close friends here are actually from Europe. But, alas, we found two more American students. Then I held up some pom-poms again and smiled until my cheeks hurt. These photos ended up getting a two-page feature in the Townsville Bulletin newspaper the next day. I was able to snag a couple copies of it to take home as a souvenir and add to my news paper clipping from the time I was in the newspaper in Mexico during my first study abroad experience.
Fast forward to this evening and I and my three closest friends here in AU were getting ready to finally see out first rugby game! Since there were no buses this evening to the stadium, we had to call a taxi. Now, the only other time that I have taken a taxi is when I was in Mexico, and that time my host mom had to call the company three times and it took for ever for the taxi to arrive. This time I figured it wouldn’t take three calls, but I still thought it would be good to call at least 15 minutes before we wanted a taxi to arrive. So, when I called my friends and I were still putting away our dinner dishes and grabbing our bags. But it turns out that our taxi pretty much showed up within three minutes of me calling, so it was a bit of a scramble and we had to pay a few extra bucks for making the taxi wait for our last friend, but once we were all in the cab, it was a quick 15 minute ride to the stadium. But that quick ride came at a steep price. It was $30 one way! At least we had four of us to split the bill between and we could afford to pay $15 each for the taxi, especially because our tickets to the game ended up being free.
Now, as an American who is used to most things, especially sporting events, being a bit “extra,” I also figured that we should show up to the stadium at least 45 minutes early so that we could get our bags checked, find our seats, and have time to settle in for the game before kick off. But, it turns out this wasn’t necessary. We walked right up to the gate, scanned our tickets without having to wait in any lines, and quickly found our seats, as there were many less seats and people than I expected.Since we had plenty of time to kill, I told my friends about how small this stadium is compared to the stadium of my home college football team. This stadium is home the home of the Townsville Cowboys, Queensland’s professional rugby team, and it seats 26,500 people. In comparison, the collegiate football stadium, home of the Beavers, at Oregon State University is nearly twice as large with a max capacity of 45,674 fans. This stadium was also looking even smaller due to how empty the stands were. It was announced that there were 5,000 present for the game, but honestly it looked like a lot less. While we waited for the game to start, there was an announcer chatting with fans in the crowd. Way down across from our seats on the “big screen,” which was the size of a small screen at my home college stadium, we could see well dressed USA and Fiji fans ready to cheer their teams to a win.
We had pretty good seats. We were seated third-row near mid field. Before the game started, the players came out to test the field during warm ups and then the national anthem of each team was sung as their flags were raised by military men and women from each nation. It was emotional listening to both of the beautiful anthems. After the anthems were sung, it was a few minutes until kick off. When the match was ready to begin, the announcer lead a 10-second count down and then the match was on! Within the first few minutes, it was apparent how much of a full contact sport rugby is. And the only required personal protective gear is a mouth guard. Anything beyond minimal padding is actually not allowed. This is another big difference between rugby and American football. I tried to cheer when the Hawks, the USA team, got the ball, but having never watched rugby before, I was a bit confused about what was going on and when I should be cheering.
Also, it was oddly silent in the stadium. There was no music playing while action was happening on the field. There was no commentator announcing the play-by-play. There was nearly no cheering from anyone in the stands. Despite feeling like my cheering level was near minimal compared to how much we cheer at college games back home, I could tell that I was cheering more than anyone around me, and undoubtedly proving the noisy-American stereotype true. But, I came to cheer on the Hawks to a win and had a pom-pom to put to good use! Thankfully, my German friend Annabell also joined me in cheering about half the time, so I wasn’t always alone.
As we watched the first few plays, it became apparent that Fiji seemed a bit more fearless than the USA players. And the Fijian players seemed to have a stronger ability to plow right through the defensive line of the Americans. Multiple times I counted the number of players standing up from a dog pile. “One American, two American, three American, four. One Fijian.” The end. It took three of four Americans usually to take down one Fijian! We could also hear the sound of the players crashing into one another, loud claps when bodies collided.
The within the first few minutes, the Fijians scored their first try (basically a touch down, but in rugby the ball actually has to touch-down on the ground in the end zone, unlike American football where the ball just has to be carried across the end zone or caught by an awaiting player). And with their first try came a second, and a third, and a fourth, and so on for the Fijian team.
In rugby, between plays the clock keeps counting down, unlike American football where it can feel like every 20 seconds the clock is being stopped for a few minutes. Throughout this game, the clock only stopped once for a “prolonged injury.” While landing in the end zone to touch-down the ball and scoring a try for his team, one of the Fijian players broke his wrist. It became apparent to everyone as he stood up, supporting his arm with his opposite hand while staring at a wrist that looked extra limp. My stomach twisted as I said a quick prayer for the player and cheered him off the field with other fans feeling bad that someone had to leave the field hurt.
When the clock called half time, the Hawks had managed to score 6 points, four for a try and two for a field kick. At least they were on the score board now. Unfortunately, six points didn’t make much more of a difference than zero points would because Fiji had already wracked up 36 points. It was beginning to look like it might not be American’s night in Townsville, but I still tired to cheer for the Hawks when I thought they did something right.
The second half of the game played out a lot like the first half, except thankfully without any more broken bones. In the end, Fiji earned the win with 58 points and the Americans left the field with 12. I am not sure if I am more thankful that American didn’t have a score of zero or that Fiji didn’t score over 60. Either way, it wasn’t a very good game for the Americans point-wise tonight.
After the game was over, instead of the teams returning to their locker rooms like what usually happens in America, both teams actually came over to the stands and spent at least 15 minutes chatting with people and taking photos. It was so neat that they came over to do this. My friend Annabell and I got a photo with Hawk #2. While I walked into the stadium this evening cheering for the Hawks, I may or many not have left planning to cheer for the Fijians for the rest of the 2017 Rugby World Cup series. But no matter who I left cheering for, nothing could change how happy and proud I feel to be American tonight, this week, and always.
Now, lets go Fiji!