After missing out on last year’s football season at Michigan State for a holiday in Spain, I’ve been mostly deprived of all sports. There was the occasional Tigers game, and of course the entire Michigan State basketball season, but nothing quite like a tailgate and a football game. Obviously what we consider football has not made it to the African continent, but there is not an absence of sports aficionados. The real nail biting games here are fought in a rugby arena.
I’ve been interested in rugby ever since I played a pick up game in Australia, although I honestly had no idea what I was doing and tried to stay out of the way. And then there was Invictus, which has been established as one of the most inspirational movies ever. It is an interesting game, similar to American football in many respects. The ball can only be thrown sideways or backward, never forward. You are allowed to punt whenever you see fit. When tackled, you must pop the ball out behind you, otherwise it will result in a penalty. When the ball is thrown in bounds, two “fliers” are thrown into the air to receive the pass in. The game is completely foreign, but immensely fun to watch.
Last evening after finding an incredible burger joint, we headed to the Newlands stadium to watch the Stormers play against the Cheetahs. The Stormers are a Cape Town team, and the Cheetahs originate from the Eastern Cape. I’ve never seen a more rough game, as players stomped, tackled, pushed, pulled, and slapped other players in an attempt to procure the ball. Bloody and bruised, the Stormers ultimately gained the upper hand and to the delight of the crowd, won the game.
In front of us, sat a group of 5 older men. Four were Stormers fans and one in the middle was a Cheetahs fan. The men took a liking to us, and helped to explain some of the terminology. They were absolutely hysterical, and as they pointed out themselves, the complete epitome of the rainbow nation. Just here to enjoy a beer and a game, sat two “colored” Indians, a Muslim, and a Boer. Making fun of each other the entire time as old friends do, the situation was so interesting to me. A mere 20 years ago, this would have been absolutely obscene. Overcoming the legacies of apartheid, these unlikely friends were thrown together for the love of the sport, encompassing exactly Nelson Mandela’s hope for the sport of rugby.