Saturday, 25 June 2016

All Blacks at last!

Starting off the new experiences with the most recent. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New Zealand? For me, its kiwi birds and sheep, but for most people its rugby. Over here in NZ if you utter the words "I'm not really into sport" you are treated to a shocked, semi-disgusted look before being ignored in favour of talking to 'normal' people. I really moved to the wrong country. Maybe I should have gone to somewhere like France where the national love is cheese and wine...
Instead I am in a country where sports stars are the biggest celebrities and the most commonly viewed channel in my house is Sky Sports. It's not that I hate sport - I think it's a good thing - I just don't find it particularly interesting nor do I feel the need to align myself so completely with a particular team that I feel their wins and losses personally. I pay attention to the Olympics because of the variety and its infrequency. Once every four years is enough to get enthusiastic, I cannot maintain that all year every year. I kept under the radar for so long it was over two years before my Kiwi family realised I hadn't witnessed the pinnacle of national pride - an All Black's rugby match. Swiftly, tickets were booked and before you could say Richie McCaw I was sat in a pub surrounded by Welsh and Kiwi supporters stocking up on beer and burgers before the big game at Eden Park stadium. Nursing my hot toddy (yes it is winter here), I surveyed the press of fans all laughing and joking and killing time mostly wearing the official black jersey of the ABs while I'd opted for my thick red coat due to the weather, thinking I was smart. Another look round told me the Welsh supporters were wearing red. Ah, I had arrived in the colour of the enemy. Good start.
Thankfully all thoughts of being ousted as the opposition faded into the atmosphere of the stadium itself. First major sports game in my first proper stadium definitely counted as a new experience, and was especially important because I was cynical and thought I'd get bored after two minutes. How wrong I was. The stadium resounded with both national anthems followed by that spine-tingling haka (the iconic Maori war dance) then it was kick off. Here's where I thought I'd switch off and start eyeing the lady selling donuts. Then both teams scored early tries, causing the crowd to go nuts and the flame throwing things to, well, throw flame on the sideline in celebration. The first half was fast paced with both teams scoring well so it didn't really matter that I didn't understand penalties and scrums etc. Teams switched ends for the second half and we were suddenly thrown right into the action with New Zealand scoring again and again right in front of us. We were so close to the goal posts, even the guy next to us caught a penalty shot. Also worth a mention was the highly impressive Mexican wave which made it all the way round the stadium nearly five times before being lost in a tense crowd on its feet as brutal tackles were made almost on top of the try line. Needless to say the predominantly Kiwi crowd, and indeed the flame throwers, went nuts when the All Blacks bought home an overwhelming victory over the Welsh who did put up a good fight.
I'm still not a sports fan and will still run away from Sky Sport, but the tension, high scores and enthusiastic genial crowd of that first test match means I will definitely be booking tickets when Australia comes to town. New experience:1, Cynicism: 0.

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