Growing up, Saturday afternoons were for watching Rugby Union games with friends and family. No matter what was going on at home, with friends, at school, or in the country I lived, the world stopped for the two games that were televised live. I am as far away from that world as one can be, yet it is with me right now.
It began with my grandfather. He played as a kid as evidenced by a hook nose and a deep understanding of the game. There were only two times we could not bother him, his post-lunch nap, and when the rugby was on. But if we were there when the game was on, he would talk, explaining the rules, the nuances, the players positioning and decisions. Rugby was real-time, dynamic chess for him, a thinking person’s sport, and he imbued that thinking, understanding and love of the game in all his grand-children.
We spent a lot of time in Cape Town as young kids. And much of that time was spent playing an ongoing game of Rugby with the cousins and neighborhood kids in my Aunt’s garden. When we arrived at the beginning of a vacation, her lawns were always perfect, flowerbeds immaculate and colors delightful. Within days, the garden was completely and utterly destroyed. We’d tackle each other into the flowers, ruining them. We’d ruck and maul deep gouges into the perfectly cut grass. When a ‘pile-up’ was called, all kids would dive in, wrecking everything. And she never said a word. There was no where else we, the kids, wanted to be but in the game, unless a real game was on for us to watch. Newlands in Cape Town always had cheap bleachers seats for us kids, right up close to the field where we could see our heroes play.
When I got older, and we finally received our own TV, our weekends revolved around the games. Friends, never invited nor needing to be invited, came over. I have no idea how many meals my mum served a bunch of rowdy, hungry, growing boys in those days, nor how many beers we quaffed as we got older and started drinking. And she never said a word. Those friendships have lasted a lifetime and remain as strong as ever, even though we are worlds apart.
And later on, even older, I went to the games. More often than not, my best mate and I would just arrive at the stadium, buy some scalped tickets for the members section and go in to watch the game. I’m not even sure we even cared who was playing sometimes, as long as we did it. Watched Rugby together.
International games were never missed. We’d get together wherever we were, have a barbecue and watch. In Japan, a friend set up a projector and screen for the big games. The Bledisloe Cup games between Australia and New Zealand were the high point of each season. Then came the Super League and the Five (now six) Nations championships. Better games, more internationals, more opportunities to hang out and enjoy.
And now there is the World Cup. The best of the best. I have rarely missed watching a World Cup Rugby game live. When Australia beat England in 1991, we were watching. When South Africa won and overcome its racial divide in 1995, we we watching. France beating the All Blacks in 1999 was the best game ever (until Japan vs South Africa yesterday maybe), and we were watching. Johnny Wilkinson’s drop goal in 2003 to aid England defeating my Australia broke our hearts, and we were watching.
This weekend I watched the first 7 of the 8 World Cup 2015 games live online. I am here in New York, far away from friends and family, from where I come from. But I was not alone. I know those kids I played with all those years ago were doing the same, wherever they are. I know my family and cousins were watching, sharing our love of the game and each other with the next generation. And I know my mates were doing the same too. All of them were on the couch with me, cheering, commenting, calling out the refs, pointing out tactical errors and debating the players and rules.
The love of watching Rugby taught us a lot as we grew up. It taught us to think, to debate, to love, to really communicate, and to be better friends. It drew this nerd out of his shell - too far some say. It showed us that even though the game may just be a game, sportsmanship, courage, honesty and strength come from the head and the heart, not the muscles. It taught us to share and to enjoy the precious moments.
Saturday afternoons were for watching Rugby with family and friends. Decades later, we’re still watching Rugby as eagerly as ever. Even though we are thousands of miles away from each-other, we’re not alone in our love for each other or the game that drew is in.
Follow the author as @hiltmon on Twitter.