Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 104 - Attending a Professional Rugby Match


I have never attended a Rugby game. In fact, I didn’t know much about how the sport was played until I made my recent trip to Ireland. Shortly after arriving in Ireland it became apparent Rugby is a big deal in Ireland much the same way American football and Baseball are in the United States. Each day we have been here I have heard and seen advertisements and interviews for Rugby routinely. As such, I figured attempting to attend a game would be a good use of our time on one of the days in our visit. Luckily, the weekend resting in the middle of our trip happened to be the season opener for the professional Rugby league in Ireland, which gave us the unique experience of seeing the first game of the season for one of Ireland’s most beloved Rugby teams, Munster Rugby, as they took on another national team, Gloucester Rugby. The experience would prove an exciting and unforgettable way to spend the first day of the back half of our trip to Ireland.

Pregame... The view of the stadium

This morning we woke to cool temperatures and light rain that was expected to persist throughout the day. While this may have been a deterrent to some wishing to attend a Rugby match, Patrick and I agreed the rain provided a fuller, more authentic experience. After stopping in a small town for our first ever full Irish breakfast, Patrick and I headed back north to Limerick for the Rugby match. We were lucky enough to arrive shortly after the gates opened, which gave us a great opportunity to find seats in the terrace at centerfield very near the front row. While the pictures and video of the event may lead many to believe there was a small crowd in attendance, I assure you the stands behind us quickly became packed to the brim with people despite the cold, rainy weather. While I’m still not sure why only half of the stands were open for the game (I think it may have been because it was the season opener where games don’t have a great impact on the season), the crowd the stacked on our side of the stadium was full throated in their support of the team and the sport. Men and women bellowed calls of support and opposition for the teams and flung more than their fair share of insults at the referees. Needless to say, the action in the stands was as ruckus as the action on the field.

Warmups

On that point, Patrick and I watched the first half of the Rugby game with some reservation. As two Americans still trying to get a feel for the game, we analyzed the action closely and did best to keep track of the rules. At first those efforts caused us to restrain ourselves in the midst of the action, but we eventually found ourselves cheering and hissing along with the crowd midway through the first half of play. In fact, that turning point came when Patrick and I observed a Munster player get injured in a takedown, rise to his feet after receiving medical attention while the game continued around him, hobble down to his team, and push himself down field to score a try in the next five minutes of the match. We couldn’t help but cheer at the unbelievable strength and resilience displayed by the player and his teammates. The players were beyond tough, and they were playing their hearts out to win a game that meant very little to the rest of their season.

Taking the field

Kickoff!

Success off of a lineup

Scrumming!

By the end of the first half Patrick and I roared to life with the crowd around us. Although we were soaking wet and chilled to the bone, we were having a blast watching one of the most physical games I have ever witnessed. A few minutes later the second half of the match began, and the players hit the field with the same energy and force as the first half. Early on Gloucester showed strength, closing Munster’s slim lead with a sudden, unexpected score following a Munster error. With the score close, the crowd became more involved in the action, which engaged me more. I stayed glued to the action on the field as play continued and Munster tore back on the offensive end of the field. Eventually, their efforts paid off as the ball stayed in Munster control for the majority of the second half of the match, leaving Gloucester with little room to claim the lead. The consistent state of defense wore on Gloucester until their ranks eventually broke and permitted Munster to score several more times. While Munster did eventually give Gloucester a chance to score tries several more times in the remaining portion of the match, the score was never close again, and Munster ultimately clinched victory with a final score of 27 to 17.

The lift on a lineup!

A pileup!

Midfield action


With the game finished, Patrick and I shuffled out of the stadium with the rest of the crowd. Although the rain had reduced to a fine mist, the chilling effect of the gloomy weather became obvious as the excitement of the game wore off. After making the trip back to our hotel in Blarney, Patrick and I were quick to call it a night in preparation for tomorrow’s plans. While the weather left something to be desired, I’m glad we decided to make attending a professional Rugby game a part of our trip. The experience was unlike any I have had attending a sports event in the past, and the crowd provided a unique perspective on Irish passion that we hadn’t seen up to this point in our trip. Considering we walked into tonight’s game with little understanding of Rugby and left as members of the crowd, I would say today’s “I have never...” event was a success. I now understand the game of Rugby much more than I did before, and I found a sport that I can get into. Now, I don’t mean to say I would ever give Rugby a try (well, maybe I would...), but I would definitely attend another match if presented the opportunity... Especially if I ever find myself in Ireland again.

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