Hakas, rucks and scrums, oh my! Attending a NZ rugby match

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I'll admit it: I do not understand the rules of rugby.

I simply pretend to understand the rules of rugby because I cannot, in good conscience, say “I like rugby” while at the same time admitting that I know very little about the game. It makes me feel like one of those girls who goes out and buys a pink Steelers jersey just because it’s pink, and some hot guy told her they were a good team. I’m not one of those girls.

I do, legitimately, like rugby. I like watching rugby. I like the rugby atmosphere. And I really like New Zealand, a country where rugby is extremely popular.


I was first introduced to the sport (along with many other strange things, like Vegemite) during my first trip to New Zealand in 2005. I happened to be in the country for two out of three test matches that the New Zealand All Blacks played against the British and Irish Lions. The U.K. team hadn't been Down Under since 1993, and, since rugby is essentially the national pastime in New Zealand, it was kind of a big deal.

I remember turning the hotel TV on my first night in Auckland and stumbling upon what was the second test match of the tour. I had no idea what I was watching. Was it soccer? No, they were using their hands. Was it football? No, they had no helmets and very tiny shorts. I was so confused.

And yet intrigued.

What teen-aged American girl wouldn't want to sit in front of the television and watch very fit men (who probably had amazing accents) in tight shorts run around and get sweaty on a field during a full-contact sport? … (Oh come on, you know you would.)

I watched about half the game before the jetlag caught up with me. I had no idea how to follow the rugby match (and the sleep deprivation didn't help), but I knew it was interesting and unlike any other sport I'd seen.

A week later, I would find myself in a rowdy hotel bar as the locals watched the All Blacks trounce the Lions for a third and final time. The atmosphere — of national pride, mirth, and lots of beer — was infectious.

It would take me roughly another three years before I actually made it to my first rugby match. People don't play rugby much in the U.S. midwest (though my university did have club teams, surprisingly), so it wasn't until I returned to New Zealand for a semester that I got to see a live game.

A group of international students decided to head up to Auckland for the weekend in order to watch the All Blacks take on the Australian Wallabies. If you've ever been to either New Zealand or Australia (or perhaps even if you haven't), you'll know the sort of rivalry that exists between these two sort-of-neighbors. The Kiwis pick on the Aussies for their heavy drinking habits. The Aussies pick on the Kiwis for… well, just about everything, really. Both countries are fiercely supportive of their sports teams, and this is especially true in rugby.

So, being able to see one of these matches live while in Auckland seemed like a no-brainer. We bought our tickets, purchased some All Blacks paraphernalia, and hopped on the free train that would take us to Eden Park.

There was a lot of black and silver in Auckland that night. But, also a fair bit of gold and green. The tension is the stadium before the match began was palpable. The All Blacks had just lost to the Wallabies the weekend before in Sydney, and the Kiwis weren't about to lose again on their home turf. That evening's haka (a native Maori war dance that the All Blacks perform before each match) was especially fierce.

All Blacks perform the haka

The match itself was… well, slightly confusing. I had been watching matches on television during my first month living in Wellington. But those matches had an announcer, replays, and a general run-down of what was going on. I thought I was starting to understand the game a little better – you know, what a scrum was, how you properly scored a try, etc. But there was no announcer at the live match. Nobody enthusiastically explaining what was going on.

My friend Jamie, who played rugby in college, tried to help us rugby-newbs out, leaning over every now and then to explain why or how something happened –rucks and hookers and all manner of other funny-sounding words. I just concentrated on cheering for the appropriate team.

In the end, The All Blacks easily beat the Wallabies, 39-10, and it didn’t really matter if I had understood every nuance of the game. I had supported the New Zealand team, booed the Australians (especially when a large block of Aussie fans refused to participate in a stadium-wide round of the wave), and been witness to a very exciting win.

On the train back from Eden Park, my friends and I were befriended by some very drunk All Blacks fans. They were so ecstatic about the win that they barely recognized we were all Americans. The fact that most of us probably hadn’t followed the game very well (especially those who hadn’t even watched a full match on TV before) didn’t make any difference. We were all comrades now, having cheered the Kiwis, booed the Aussies, perhaps imbibed a bit, and emerged victorious on all fronts.

The rest of the details didn’t really seem to matter.

Go All Blacks!

Is there a sport that you love, but don't necessarily understand completely?

And, if you’d like to learn more about the history of the New Zealand haka (and see some great videos), check this post out.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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26 Comments on “Hakas, rucks and scrums, oh my! Attending a NZ rugby match

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  1. […] you probably know that Kiwis (AKA New Zealanders) drive on the left, love rugby, and have a lot of beautiful scenery to look at. But do you also know they have a unicameral […]

    I am a Rugby obsessed Auzzie so when I found this post I got so excited because I love when people from countries where its not played are able to experience it. I was actually at the game the weekend before when we beat NZ at home.
    I must say however if you are ever in Australia you best be cheering for the Wallabies haha.
    Great post!

      I really like rugby and wish that it was more popular here in the U.S.!

      (As for cheering on the Wallabies in Australia… only if they aren’t playing the All Blacks! 😉 )

        Well I suppose that’s fair…
        You should try to get to London in 2015, they will be hosting the World Cup and you can cheer on your own country then!

          Oh yeah?? That is definitely a possibility… and I love London!! (Though, the US never has a great rugby team… still might root for the All Blacks. Haha!)

            Oh, and also if you do you should definitely make a quick trip to Paris. When they had the World Cup in France back in 2007 the atmosphere was amazing. They set up a big screen around the Eiffel Tower so you could sit and watch it in the park (not sure if they will do that again). Because France nearly won last year it has become a lot more popular over there.

    Being a Kiwi there is nothing better than seeing the AB’s play.. my heart skips a beat when seeing the haka. In saying that, I personally think the best rugby is actually the Super Rugby comp between NZ, Australian and South African teams. The game came be far more intense than an international game. And of course the best team is the Crusaders from Canterbury – not that I am biased at all 🙂

      I showed a video of the ABs doing a haka in one of my classes last year. Nobody in the class watched rugby, or had ever heard of the ABs. But they were all like, “WOW. That’s intense!”

    Awesome! We really got into Rugby when we were in NZ and Auz, but I’m still sticking with hockey! (shocking, I know!)

      Haha. Hockey is cool, too! But there’s just something about rugby that I REALLY love. And it’s so fun to watch!

    I have never seen a rugby game, but I can understand not knowing the game yet enjoying the cultural experience. It’s funny how much sports transcend actual attitudes as they do between Australia and New Zealand.

    I really miss watching the All Blacks in New Zealand! But my favorite part about rugby? Dan Carter, YUM! 🙂

      Hahaha. I know quite a few people who are All Blacks fans because of Dan Carter! 😉

    I’m also a fan of rugby. It actually started when I was studying abroad in Australia and apparently I looked like a famous rugby player. I’d be walking down the streets of Melbourne and people would approach me and ask for photos or an autograph. Once they heard my accent, then they realized their error. But as a result, I started following the sport and I’ve grown to really enjoy watching it.

    I’ve yet to see the All Blacks play live but I can only imagine it would be a memorable experience!

      You should have tried to feign an accent to sign autographs! Haha. That’s funny.

      And yes, seeing the All Blacks is indeed memorable! The haka alone is awesome (more on that later this week).

    I remember my first rugby game… I totally went for the boys! It was in college- just a school group- and I thought that because I love football, that I would at least have some sort of knowledge of the game… yeah, no. but the boys were really cute to look at!! ha!

      Haha, yeah, it’s really not much like football at all! I mean, there are similarities, sure… but not enough to properly follow the action. But yes… the guys playing are almost always nice to look at! I can never get over how massive their thighs are…

    I work with some folks from the UK and South Africa who are big into rugby, and I got to admit I would love to see a match. From talking with them and watching a bit on TV (oh and Invictus), it seems like an amazing experience to be at a big match.

      It is indeed a fun experience! Unlike what I expected, but just feeling the energy in the stadium for such a big game was awesome. The U.S. isn’t very big into rugby, but every once in a while big international teams do exhibition tours in the U.S. You should keep an eye out for them!

    Really loved this post. Rugby is such a fun sport to watch. Got into it a bit on my trip. But if you liked this event…. you really need to head to New Zealand for the Wellington Sevens tourny. Check out my reviews of that wildness here:


      Thanks, Michael! Rugby is indeed a fun sport to watch — most often because of the crazy fans, as evidenced in some of your Sevens photos (great, by the way!). I would have LOVED to be in Welly for the Sevens, but I unfortunately had to head back home in November. But, one of these days I’ll have to try and time a trip just right…

    As I understand it, New Zealand are hosting the rugby world cup next year. And I should be in New Zealand at the time, if all stays as planned. Should be fun!

      Yes, they are indeed hosting the rugby world cup in 2011! Definitely catch a game or two if you’re there! Wish I could be. I actually thought about it, but limited vacation days kind of thwarted that plan.

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